By Ehsan Mehmood Khan
“The Afghan government decided to ban all Pakistani newspapers in Afghanistan,” Sayed Ihsanuddin Taheri, the Afghan Government spokesman, stated on September 21, 2012. The papers have been banned because, “In recent months Pakistani newspapers have started an anti-Afghan government campaign, especially in the eastern provinces,” he stated. He also upheld that “The [Pakistani] papers print Taliban propaganda, question the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and run an anti-government campaign.” Mr. Taheri told the Reuters that Pakistani newspapers are often misleading in their reporting of the Afghan administration and wrongly accuse NATO-led forces of "occupying" the country, rather than offering security support. It is nothing but ironic and can be analyzed from many angles.
Firstly, Afghanistan has a medium size media (when considered in terms of local conditions and readership). Afghan newspapers are published both in English and local languages. A few to note are: Afghan Daily (English); Afghan Online Press (English); Afghan Sport (English); 8 Sobh (Dari); Daily Outlook Afghanistan (English); Kabul Press (English); Khaama Press (English); Wadsam (English); Pajhwok Afghan News (English); Sabawoon Online (English & Pashto); Daily Afghanistan (Pashto & Dari); Benawa.com (Pashto); Da’wat Afghan Media (Pashto); Larabar.com (Pashto); Taand (Pashto); Tolafghan (Pashto & Dari); and Surgar (Pashto). Interestingly, Bassirat, literally Insight, is an Afghan daily published online in French language. The print versions of the Afghan newspapers boast circulation of a few hundred to a few thousand copies. However, in view of small readership, there is hardly a room for print-version of foreign newspapers, Pakistani or others.
Secondly, in view of the above, it is amazing to know that Pakistani newspapers are finding space in Afghanistan’s information domain. If yes; certainly, they are being transported to Afghanistan across the volatile and porous border over which thousands of Afghans travel to and fro using frequented and unfrequented routes. Most of them are part of the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan for decades. Afghan Government has no system to compute or regulate this movement. Afghan Government does not have mechanism even to check the terrorists attacking into Pakistan using their hideouts in Afghanistan (especially in Kunar Province). In this backdrop, how can they ban or block the access of Pakistani newspapers to the Afghans who like to read these newspapers.
Thirdly, virtually each newspaper in the world today has both print and online versions. Online publication has transformed the paper hpw medium into news-sans-frontier. None can check or ban theonliners. For instance, while these lines are being written, over a dozen tabs are open with online Afghan newspapers mentioned above. According to internetworldstats.com, there are over 1.25 million internet users in Afghanistan making it for 4.2 percent of population. Most of them are using social media besides reading online newspapers and magazines published from around the world. One can guesstimate it from the fact that some 323,700 Afghans are using Facebook making it for over 32 percent of the country’s online population. The onliners mark the bulk of Afghan newspaper readership. An official ban would rather prompt them to surf Pakistan’s media web in keeping with the human nature.
Fourthly, Pakistan is one of the biggest victims of terrorism. Pakistan’s free media does not take up the agenda of terrorist at any rate. Insofar as topical criticism is concerned, Pakistani media does not spare even the Government of Pakistan. Since, the socio-economic and security affairs of Pakistan and Afghanistan are interlinked in many ways; therefore, Afghan Government too comes under discussion in Pakistani media. But don’t Euro-American media discuss and even demonize the Afghan Government on many issues, especially corruption?
Fifthly, accusation of NATO-led forces by Pakistani media as an occupation force, rather than offering security support is rather strange. Pakistani media does not consider them to be an “occupation force” as the most Afghan do including many serving as part of the Afghan Government. Take the example of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) – Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Police; they are attacking the NATO forces since 2008. Over 50 NATO soldiers have been killed by the members of ANSF during the current year till date. So, what do these Afghan think of the NATO forces. To note, countless Americans and Europeans, too, think and note the Western Forces in Afghanistan as occupation forces. Pakistani media is rather moderate in its language apropos ISAF, NATO and the US forces.
That said, it is considered that the ban on Pakistani newspapers by the Afghan Government is neither justifiable nor practicable. It is rather a step that may fuel alienation between the Afghan Government and a powerful media of a neighbouring brotherly country, the media that is otherwise supportive of the Afghan peace, populace and polity.