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Under attack

Shamil Shams, Shakoor Rahim in IslamabadApril 21, 2014

DW correspondent Abdul Ghani Kakar has reportedly been attacked in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. Observers say that Pakistani journalists are being increasingly targeted by both state and non-state actors.

Abdul Ghani Kakar

According to Abdul Ghani Kakar (shown above), a freelance correspondent for DW based in Quetta, Pakistan, three armed men followed him on Sunday, April 20, and "rammed their vehicle" into his car in a possible assassination attempt. The unknown assailants fled the scene after attacking him, Kakar reported, adding that two passersby had been wounded and that he had received minor injuries.

The correspondent for DW's Urdu service said he had been getting "threatening phone calls" for the past few days.

Perilous Pakistan

Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world. According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, seven reporters lost their lives in Pakistan in 2013. A 2012 UNESCO report ranked Pakistan "the second most dangerous country for journalists the world over" after Mexico.

A day prior to the alleged attack on Kakar, Hamid Mir, a renowned Pakistani journalist and TV anchor, was shot three times in the southern port city of Karachi. Doctors say his condition is now stable.

A Pakistani journalist flashes victory signs from inside the lockup of a police station after several journalists were arrested for protesting against the Emergency rule and curbs on media outside the Hyderabad Press Club in Hyderabad, Pakistan, 20 November 2007 (Photo: EPA/NADEEM KHAWER +++(c) dpa - Report+++)
Journalists are threatened by both militants and Pakistani security officialsImage: picture alliance/dpa

The attack on Mir came less than a month after gunmen tried to kill a liberal journalist, Raza Rumi, who is known for criticizing the country's Islamists.

Observers say these incidents highlight the risks the journalists in Pakistan are currently facing.

Terrorism and Islamism are the most dangerous issues for Pakistani journalists to report on, says the non-governmental South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA).

Kakar reports extensively on the Baloch separatist movement and human rights violations in Balochistan province for international and local media organizations.

Experts say that Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province - which borders Afghanistan and Iran - is one of the most deadly places for journalists and reporters. Not only does the province face the challenge of a protracted separatist movement, it is also a hub for various Islamist militant organizations, including the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Kakar told DW that he had been receiving death threats from members of banned Baloch militant organizations.

Investigation begins

Muhammad Rafique, a local police officer, told DW the authorities were looking into Sunday's hit and run and were working to determine whether it was an attempt on Kakar's life or merely a road accident.

Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) has condemned the alleged attack.

"Thirty journalists have been killed in Balochistan in the past few years. The province's chief minister has finally promised to set up a judicial commission to investigate the murders after our protests," Irfan Chanda, BUJ president, told DW.

Threats from all sides

But the threat journalists face, according to experts, comes not only from various militant groups, but also from the government's security and intelligence agencies.

Imtiaz Alam, secretary general of SAFMA, told DW both state and non-state elements were against press freedom in Pakistan:

"So many journalists in Pakistan have been killed yet nobody has ever been brought to justice for these murders. The recommendations of the judicial commission investigating Saleem Shahzad's murder [a high-profile investigative journalist who was allegedly killed by the ISI in 2011] have never been implemented."

The relatives and aides of TV anchor Hamid Mir have blamed the military's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for the assassination attempt on the journalist on Saturday, April 19. The journalist has been critical of the country's intelligence agencies and military for their alleged role in the kidnappings of thousands of people in Balochistan. The Pakistani army has denied these allegations.

Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist
Mir is a critic of Pakistan's security agenciesImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Ghazi Salahuddin, a senior columnist in Karachi, told DW that Pakistani journalists had to work under very difficult circumstances."Many journalists feel scared and threatened. Pakistani politics has been criminalized. It has become very difficult for journalists to perform their tasks freely."

Overall improvements in press freedom

Generally, however, experts agree that the Pakistani media enjoy a great amount of freedom to criticize the government, politicians, the military and its ubiquitous intelligence agencies, including the ISI, in such a way that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago.

"The struggle to report independently and objectively will continue," said Nasir Tufail, a senior producer at the private news channel, Geo TV. "What we have achieved is the result of our decades-long battle against suppression, and our longing for freedom."