[lg policy] Pakistan: United States Ambassador intervenes to force newspaper group to block weekly column by prominent academic and critic of US policies

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 6 16:58:17 UTC 2009

“The Americans can’t gag me in my own country…the last round will be
mine” says Shireen Mazari

Written by Moin Ansari Politics Sep 6, 2009

It is deplorable that The News under pressure from US Ambassador Anne
W. Patterson has decided to discontinue the column of Shireen Mazari.
Ms. Mazari is a Pakistan nationalist and was a huge supporter of wise
US policies in the past. Her criticism of bad US policy in Pakistan
and Afghanistan should be taken as nuggets of wisdom which will help
the free world. Ms. Patterson’s interference in the journalistic
freedom in Pakistan is a pathetic attempt to freeze free speech. Ahmed
Quraishi, an intellectual, an analyst, a talk show host and a guardian
of the Pakistan ideology has written a column in defense of Ms.
Shireeen Mazari.

Mr. Haqqani is the one who fired Ms. Mazari from a Pakistani Think
tank. “rang layeh ga shaeedoun ka lahoo”.  This type of
micro-management will backfire and create more Anti-Americanism in
Pakistan. Ms. Mazari is absolutely right, no one can gag her ideas.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—United States Ambassador Anne W. Patterson
intervened with one of the largest newspaper groups in Pakistan to
force it to block today a decade-old weekly column by a prominent
academic and critic of US policies. Dr. Shireen Mazari, the former
director of the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies and a mordant
critic of US blunders in Pakistan and the region, was stunned when her
column failed to appear in today’s edition of the newspaper. This
happened after the US ambassador sent a ‘private’ letter to the
management of The News International, one of the largest
English-language dailies of Pakistan.

This is a new high for American influence inside Pakistan. Never
before did a US ambassador manage to force such a change in a
newspaper’s policy. For those who are new to Pakistan, this is
equivalent to having Maureen Dowd or Tom Friedman’s column knocked off
the pages of the New York Times because Dick Cheney does not like
their criticism.
Unlike Ms. Patterson in Pakistan, her colleague in London, ambassador
Louis Susman, could never dream of achieving a similar feat by, say,
convincing The Times of London to block a column by David Aaronovitch.
Or the US ambassador in Moscow, John Beylre, Jr., who could never even
think of forcing Komsomolskaya Pravda to do anything remotely similar.
They have Vladimir Putin in Russian who knows how to protect his
country’s interest.

Only in Pakistan, where American meddling has reached alarming
proportions and risks turning this second largest Muslim country and
the world’s seventh declared nuclear-armed nation into another version
of Latin America’s banana republics where Washington has been known to
change governments at will. The US achieved a feat last year when it
forced the country’s military establishment under a weak and insecure
Pervez Musharraf to strike a ‘deal’ to forgive the questionable
illegal wealth and other criminal cases against several Pakistani
political figures in order to help them come to power in exchange for
supporting US policies in Pakistan. Another major break for Washington
is Pakistan’s acquiescence in the construction in Islamabad of what
will soon become the largest US embassy in the world. Recently,
members of privately armed US militias have been spotted in Islamabad,
in some cases roughing up Pakistani citizens, without the Pakistani
government daring to take action.

But blocking Dr. Mazari’s column is a new high for American influence
in Pakistani affairs. She especially earned the ire of the Americans
last year when she single handedly threw cold water on US plans to
post a notoriously anti-Pakistan US army general to Islamabad. It was
March 2008 when the new pro-US government in Islamabad allowed
Washington to post Major General Jay W. Hood as the Chief, Office of
the Defence Representative in Islamabad. But Dr. Mazari broke the news
of the appointment through her column, creating an uproar and forcing
the Pakistani government to reject the appointment. Dr. Mazari held a
press conference today at the Islamabad head office of Pakistan
Justice Movement, or PTI, a political party headed by cricket star
Imran Khan where she is a senior official handling foreign policy

Ambassador Anne Patterson is reported to have sent a letter to the
management of the newspaper protesting at Dr. Mazari’s writings,
especially on the question of the presence of Blackwater and other
private American militias on Pakistani soil. Interestingly, Ms.
Patterson said she did not want to see her letter published in the
newspaper and insisted it be kept private. It is also not clear if Ms.
Patterson actually threatened legal action or other form of protest or
pressure if the newspaper continued to publish Dr. Mazari’s columns.
The newspaper editorial team is said to be ready to publish the
blocked column later, possibly with some editing. Frankly, no one can
blame a newspaper for protecting its interest when the very government
of Pakistan seems incapable of protecting the national interest. Had
Pakistan had a truly nationalistic government in Islamabad, one that
inspired confidence, I can imagine that any newspaper would have
politely deflected undue pressure from a foreign diplomat.

But the very fact that the column failed to run marks a victory for
the US embassy and a fresh sign of the growing US influence and
meddling in Pakistan’s internal matters. It is not clear if Ms.
Patterson sought the permission of the Pakistan Foreign Office before
directly contacting a Pakistani newspaper to exert pressure. This is
the fourth attempt by the US Embassy to silence Dr. Mazari, whose
incisive political commentary based on her close brush with power
corridors in Islamabad over the years has given the Americans and the
Brits a constant headache. Her columns are fodder for those who
advocate a more nationalistic and Pakistan-centric approach in dealing
with Washington instead of the current approach where the United
States is reaping strategic benefits at the expense of Pakistan’s
interests and stability.

In 2006, the US ambassador at the time, Ryan Crocker, is reported to
have warned Pakistan’s foreign secretary Mr. Riaz Khokar, that he will
consider Dr. Mazari’s writings to be reflective of official Pakistani
thinking because Dr. Mazari was heading a think tank financed by the
Foreign Office. The US diplomat demanded Dr. Mazari, according to her,
be removed from office or told to stop criticizing US policies. The
foreign secretary resisted the pressure and Dr. Mazari continued her
policy discourse. The interesting thing is that the first order of
business for the present pro-US government in Islamabad after seizing
power last year was to fire Dr. Mazari.

Her ousting was engineered by Mr. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s
ambassador to Washington who is widely known in Pakistan as a staunch
American apologist. Many jokingly call him ‘America’s ambassador to
the Pakistani embassy in Washington.’ So it was no surprise that Dr.
Mazari was fired as soon Mr. Haqqani’s government came in power.
I personally faced a similar situation when a US diplomat telephoned
me in November 2007 to accuse me of spreading anti-Americanism on the
state-run PTV. My crime was to start a series of talk shows discussing
how our ally the US turned Afghanistan into a hub for anti-Pakistan
forces in the region. The lady US diplomat used a cheap trick to
intimidate me when she asked, ‘Does Musharraf know what you’re doing?’

My answer was, ‘Does President Bush know when US media frequently runs
anti-Pakistan articles?’ Dr. Mazari is not disheartened by this
episode. ‘They might have knocked me off this time,’ she told me today
after her press conference, ‘but the last round will be mine. The
Americans can’t gag me in my own country.’ And that is exactly what
the newspaper, The News International, has assured her of.


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