Afghanistan has banned Pakistani newspapers, accusing them of propagating pro-Taliban news and seeking to undermine the Afghan government. Experts say that the move is a symbolic expression of anger.
Political observers say that the Afghan government's move to ban Pakistani newspapers over claims of anti-Karzai and anti-NATO propaganda is likely to worsen already strained Afghan-Pakistani ties.
The Karzai administration in Kabul said last week that Pakistani newspapers coming into Afghanistan carried pro-Taliban reports that aimed to undermine President Karzai's government in Kabul. Afghan officials alleged that the newspapers were filled with statements that Karzai's government did not represent the Afghan people and that the NATO-led forces were "occupiers."
The Afghan government's spokesman Ihsanuddin Taheri told the media that the Pakistani newspapers regularly published speeches by Taliban leaders. He said that the Afghan government had blocked the entry of these newspapers into Afghanistan in Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan - Afghanistan's eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.
"The Afghan government decided to ban all Pakistani newspapers in Afghanistan," Taheri told the press. "In recent months Pakistani newspapers have started an anti-Afghan government campaign, especially in the eastern provinces ... The papers print Taliban propaganda, question the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and run an anti-government campaign," he added.
According to Afghanistan's interior ministry, Pakistani papers also attacked Afghan forces in their articles. Taheri said that the government had ordered the Afghan border police to collect all Pakistani newspapers from shops and newspaper stands in areas bordering Pakistan.
Many Afghanistan experts maintain that the Taliban are Islamabad's favorites, and that the Pakistani military's spy agency - the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) - uses them as a bargaining tool for its influence in Afghanistan. Islamabad denies these allegations.
'A symbolic act'
Nazir Leghari, editor of the Jang newspaper in Karachi, told DW that the Afghan government's claims were "baseless." He said that the Pakistani media was only reporting facts objectively.
"If the reality is that the Afghan government and the NATO are losing the war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani media can't report the contrary," Leghari said, adding that the Pakistan media, including his own newspaper, also made use of international media reports, which he said were usually impartial.
Leghari denied that the Pakistani media followed the directives of the Pakistani government or the ISI. The Pakistani media, he said, had gained a lot of independence from state institutions over the years to an extent that even the state officials were unhappy with its "objective" criticism.
Observers, however, believed that the banning of Pakistani newspapers in Afghanistan would not be an easy task to implement.
"This [ban] will create more curiosity among the Afghan people about Pakistani papers. And the Afghan-Pakistani border is porous. You can't restrict the news in today's age," Asha'ar Rehman of the English daily Dawn in Lahore told DW in an interview.
Thomas Kirk, a researcher on Pakistan and Afghanistan at the London School of Economics and Political Science, also believed that the Afghan government would not be able to achieve much through the ban.
"A porous border and modern technology make it almost impossible to censor news on either side of the border,” Kirk said, adding that it was convenient for the Afghan government to put all the blame on the Pakistani media. “Pakistan's media sector is diverse, massive and, for the most part, unregulated. Every political stripe or stance is represented. This makes it easy for those looking to accuse the Pakistani media of pro-Taliban rhetoric; smoking guns are everywhere."
Leghari said the Afghan government's decision to ban Pakistani newspapers in Afghanistan would not harm the relations between the two uneasy neighbors.
"The Indian government banned Pakistani news channels. We, in turn, banned the Indian channels in Pakistan. But we see that Indian-Pakistani relations are getting better despite these bans," Leghari said. He also said that independent media always played a big role in bringing hostile countries closer.
Rehman, on the other hand, was of the view that the banning of Pakistani newspapers should be looked at as a symbolic act of the Afghan government aimed at expressing anger against Pakistan. He, however, said that the Afghan government's act was reflective of the tension between Kabul and Islamabad.
"I think the move was more an attempt to target Islamabad than the Pakistani press," Rehman said.
For his part, Kirk said that the ban had more to do with Afghanistan's domestic politics than foreign policy.
"Both countries have diverse media sectors with a variety of interest groups, including the incumbent governments, competing to be heard. The ban speaks to domestic audiences which demand a steady diet of sensationalized reporting. Both governments are skilled at making headlines in order to sure up domestic constituencies or cover up internal failings."