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Indian Correspondents view on Pakistan...

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    Indian Correspondents view on Pakistan...
    Covering the Enemy...
    Everything between India and Pakistan is on a reciprocal basis. The joke goes that if the telephone of the PTI correspondent in Pakistan goes dead, the APP correspondent in New Delhi will make the complaint to rectify it, and vice versa!

    There is never a dull moment in Pakistan, particularly for an Indian correspondent, notwithstanding all the functional restraints and constraints he faces. Since India-Pakistan share a unique love-hate relationship at the level of the establishment, it gets rubbed off on 'lucky' media persons.

    For a scribe, Pakistan is a challenging assignment in more ways than one. Every word that you write and speak is under scrutiny on both sides of the border. From my experience you are bound to antagonize one side or the other in every report and there are instances where you end up being a bad person with both the establishments.

    There is a lot of physical labour involved in being a Pakistan correspondent. Round the year and round the clock there are developments in the country which are of interest to readers' back home. There is no dearth of interesting reports to pick up from the local media in particular, and the society in general. Believe me, in the last 20 months there have been just six days when I did not file a report. Of these six days, my office was closed on five, and there was no edition! On an average, I file three reports every day.

    Some persons have told me that I have been over-reporting some aspects of Indo-Pak relations. Maybe they are right. Getting the news is not difficult, but you can imagine the sheer labour involved in typing and dispatching them.

    My uninterrupted twenty-month stay in Islamabad, with two visits thrown in between to Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, has given me no reason to believe that Pakistanis nurture any kind of hostility towards Indians. I have not come across any one looking at me as an Indian agent, not even during the past two-three months when tensions have been higher than normal.

    My questions to those who have tried to convince me otherwise - mostly from the Indian High Commission and some of the distinguished visitors from India - is to ask them to give me concrete examples. No one has been able to substantiate their claim with examples from the attitude and behaviour of the Pakistani civil society. The biggest tragedy of India-Pakistan relations, in my view, is the cussedness on the part of the establishments on both the sides. Media could be the ideal bridge to overcome the obstacles created at the official level in the improvement of relations.

    But, alas, there are just two Indian correspondents in Pakistan, and one representative from the Pakistani side in India. The Hindu and PTI (Press Trust of India) have their correspondents based in Islamabad. The state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) has its presence in New Delhi. Every thing between India and Pakistan is on a reciprocal basis. The joke goes that if the telephone of the PTI correspondent in Pakistan goes dead, the APP correspondent in New Delhi will make the complaint to rectify it and vice versa!

    Like their Pakistani counterparts, the visa of the Indian correspondents in Islamabad is valid for a year, and they can travel on 48 hours' notice to the cities of Karachi and Lahore (they were the entry and exit points till New Delhi decided to snap all travel links and Islamabad followed suit). The visa of the Pakistani correspondent in India is valid for the cities of Kolkata and Mumbai exactly on the same terms. Authorities on both sides take exactly the same time to renew the visa. The principle of reciprocity is implemented in letter and in spirit.

    Getting a visa takes roughly five to six months' time on both sides. Once you are appointed as a correspondent, the agencies and ministries concerned vet your application. There is an elaborate procedure of verification. For instance, the current PTI correspondent replaced a colleague who had to leave just after four months due to a health problem. PTI had to do without a correspondent virtually for the whole of 2000, thanks to the sudden departure of its scribe.

    There is no dearth of media organizations in India keen on having their representatives in Pakistan. But, alas, the Pakistani media just can't afford to post correspondents in India. Thanks to low readership and abysmal advertisement revenues, the Pakistani media is faced with a dire economic situation. The cheapest daily here is priced at Pakistani Rs 7, with newspapers almost being luxury. In a country of 140 million, with 33 per cent literacy rate, the total circulation of all the dailies put together (Urdu, English and other languages) is estimated at just over a million.

    Very few can afford to even think of having a correspondent in Delhi. And when a paper does decide to go for it, the bureaucracy comes up with all sorts of excuses. I do know the case of one newspaper that decided to post one of its correspondents to India, but the Indian government rejected his name. Their justification was that India-bashing was the favourite pastime of the appointed correspondent. One wonders why the Indian State feels so vulnerable.

    As an Indian correspondent in Pakistan one can forget about 'exclusive' reports. While there is no dearth of resources to get information, one can hardly talk about sources. Most of the time, or all the time (The Hindu readers would know better), you are either dependent on what is being put out through official channels (Press Information Department, Pakistan Television/Radio, spokesperson and press conferences) or leaning on second-hand information.

    My focus tends to be spot reports because frankly I hardly get time for features. In the last one-and-a-half years there has been so much politics and diplomacy between the two countries (beginning with declaration of ceasefire by Hizb in July 2000), that at times it becomes very difficult to keep pace. Even then, I have attempted a few items on the economy of Pakistan.

    As an Indian correspondent, there is a strict vigil on my movements and I am followed on a regular basis, but I have never been threatened or intimidated. For the first few days after I took over, I used to get a telephone call from a chap claiming himself to be a representative of the Al-Qaeda. He used to dictate an item and tell me that he would expect to see it in the paper, or on the net. It stopped after a while. The big outfits like Lashkar have never bothered about what I wrote.

    Pakistan officials have no problem in meeting Indian scribes though they are very careful about what they say. I can say without any hesitation that, along with the PTI correspondent, I got lot of information from the Pakistani side in the run-up to the Agra Summit. You can just look at the papers prior to the event. Not a single story on the Summit, at least prior to the Summit, originated from New Delhi where there was a total clampdown in India. In contrast, Pakistan was very transparent. Of course India promptly dismissed this 'openness' as 'propaganda'.

    The constant complaint of my friends in Pakistani media is about the arrogance of the Indian prime minister and the foreign minister viz-a-viz them. There are at least over half-a-dozen major interviews by Gen Musharraf to Indian media since he took over in October, 1999, but few by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Of course, on the eve of the Agra Summit, Vajpayee did give three interviews. But the manner in which they were given was downright humiliating. It took a great deal of cajoling and coaxing by Islamabad for the interviews to materialize. Finally, the PMO agreed for the interviews if Vajpayee was given written questions in advance. Ultimately all the three scribes were called together over a cup of tea and handed over the written answers with an additional five minutes of personal interaction! To the best of my knowledge, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has not given a single interview to a Pakistani reporter.

    Officials here at various levels, in fact, go out of their way to help in obtaining all the information routed through the 'proper channels'. You are informed of all the important briefings. On demand, they promptly fax copies of the statements you want. I have not come across a single instance of an official being rude or deliberately sitting on information.

    On the other hand, there is hardly any help from the Indian High Commission. The Commission officials won't say a word, even off the record, without clearance from New Delhi. There are instances of New Delhi releasing incidents of harassment of the mission staff in Islamabad despite the presence of two Indian correspondents in Islamabad.

    As for what we write, yes, there is monitoring. I suppose it is usual for every country to keep tabs on what foreign correspondents write. It must be said to the credit of the Musharraf government that it has not put any restrictions on what they write. Only twice I got a polite call from the External Publicity Division. Once it was an objection to the headline of a report, and the second time a request to substantiate my comment with 'fact'.

    The secondary source of information in Pakistan is the print media. Though it is yet to acquire the status of a mass media in any sense of the term, it is fiercely independent. Print media is not just a mine of information, but also provides vast range of views on any given subject under the Sun. It goes to the credit of the Pakistani print media that it has not become subservient to the State. This is no mean achievement, particularly considering the fact that military has been at the helm of affairs almost since the birth of Pakistan.

    Pakistani journalists are fantastic. They are very hard working and much more conscious of the world around them than their Indian counterparts. They are paid a pittance and yet most of them take pride in their job. A number of senior journalists are not afraid to speak the truth and entertain no ill-will viz-a-viz the Indian scribes.

    The political parties, religious and jehadi organizations and civil society of Pakistan conduct business with us as usual. Most of them have no hesitation in coming on the telephone line and answering your query. Luckily, there is no bite journalism in Pakistan and print media is still courted by the netas though they themselves are sidelined at the moment.

    I have the best of equations with the jehadi outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (now banned). They have not only been extremely polite and helpful, but also gone out of their way to dispel the impression that they are talking to an 'enemy'. No doubt they cannot be expected to share the details of their functioning, but within the possible space, they have always been accommodating.

    I sincerely believe that opening up the society and allowing greater people-to-people interaction between India and Pakistan would go a long way in lifting the relations to a more cordial level. The other day when I called the Press Information Department, asking them to fax a particular statement, the chap at the other end offered instant help, but wanted me to do something to end the tension between the two countries. What is needed is an era of liberalisation, not more and more curbs.

    The writer is the Islamabad correspondent of Indian newspaper The Hindu. The write-up is reproduced here by courtesy of

    Great article from a seemingly honest person...

    good to read, sense of pride of Pakistan heightened a bit.
    I believe in dragons, good men, and other fantasy creatures.


      Adnan thanks for sharing with us.
      All people are equal, but some are more equal than others. We call these "corporations."


        Check out the other article by the Pak correspondent in India. His article is very interesting.


          Well, I observed Pakistanis in general are conscious of their identity as Pakistanis.
          Also they are more friendly and outgoing.
          They are a little bit defensive too.
          No doubt they are ware of the bad press they get in the WOrld.
          Pakistani passport IS a bit of a burden if you travel witrh it you know!!

          YOu are liable to be stopped and checked more.!!

          They definitely help each other more than Indians do. Indians rarely help each other.


            may be if we visit pakistan our attidtude
            change may be end up giving kashmir.