'But in Pakistan, Sometimes, You Only Want to Leave'

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“Pakistan is a paradise for journalists. It is a very important area. You can do a lot in that way. … So many problems and so many issues that you can write about,” explained Irfan Ashraf during a question-and-answer session with our Marc Herman last November about girls education advocate Malala Yousafzai. Then Ashraf added, “But security is the major issue. You never know who is hitting you at which time. It would [distract] me to such extent that I would not be able to write.”

Ashraf was a reporter in Pakistan until recently, having worked with domestic outlets like the English-language Dawn News, and foreign ones such as The New York Times. He left his homeland for the University of Southern Illinois to earn a doctorate in mass communications.

Sometimes I want to be in Pakistan. But in Pakistan, sometimes, you only want to leave. Things are not good for me there. For a person who identifies themselves to be secular and progressive it can be difficult. And, I do risky things sometimes. I know I do them. I write an article and I think, “Anyone can read this.” Even the [Internal Security Service] pursues me. They chased me to my house. When you are there, sometimes, you become very pessimistic. I don’t want to be pessimistic.

The danger of being a working journalist in Pakistan’s frontier regions is nicely addressed in a piece by Kiran Nazish in the new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. Nazish spent half a year studying journalists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, as the mountainous—and violent-- border area between western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan is known, and in Peshawar, the administrative hub for the areas. While it's a hotbed of militant and anti-militant drone activity, Western journalists officially aren’t allowed to report from FATA without permission from the military, which puts a damper on their activities.

“If Pakistan is the worst place to be a journalist, FATA is the worst of the worst,” Nazish writes. Pakistan is certainly a dangerous place to report from: seven journalists were killed in the country last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has logged 48 media killings in the line of duty since it started keeping records in 1992. The Tribal Union of Journalists, even has page of "martyred" journalists:

In recent past, TUJ has the honour and proud that 10 tribal journalists have been martyred in the line of their duties and for the promotion and freedom of information in the tribal areas. The terrorists directly threatened them, destroyed their houses and even killed them to stop them from reporting the stories about their terrorist attacks.

Pakistan, sadly, is only sixth since 1992 – Iraq, the Philippines, Algeria, Russia, and Somalia all have worse records (and smaller populations).