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Islamabad lifts travel ban on journalist

Pakistan has lifted a travel ban on a journalist who reported on a row between the country's civilian and military leaders. The article came at a sensitive time in relations between Islamabad and New Delhi.

Cyril Almeida, a columnist and assistant editor of the "Dawn" newspaper, reported on a meeting at which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allegedly ordered Pakistan's ISI spy agency to crack down on local militant groups fighting against India.

For years Pakistan has been accused of cracking down on only those Islamist groups which have attacked the state, and harboring those fighting abroad. For example, ISI has been accused of backing jihadist groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani to fight a proxy war against India. 

India blamed a deadly attack on its army base in the disputed region of Kashmir last month on groups operating from Pakistan with the backing of the military.

The article caused controversy when it was published last week and was condemned by domestic and international media and rights groups, forcing Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan to reverse it after meeting media representatives in Islamabad.

The minister said earlier that Almeida's report was the "narrative of our enemies." The government has issued three denials of the story and on Monday it placed a travel ban on Almeida under the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance Act of 1981.

"It has been decided to delete the name of Cyril Almeida ... from the Exit Control List," the government said, referring to the document that lists the names of people banned from leaving the country.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, who was also at the meeting, said the "government had a firm belief in freedom of the press and had proved time and again that it cannot compromise on it," adding that an investigation had been launched into the source of the leak.

Dawn, a respected English-language daily, has said it stands by the October 6 report.

Pakistan ranks 147th of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index. At least 59 journalists have been killed in targeted attacks since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Amnesty International slammed the ban as "crude" and called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (pictured above) to "remember his promise" to improve conditions for journalists.

jbh/kl (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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