Feb 20, 2009


Tragically, the pen isn’t always mightier than the sword. Wednesday’s abduction and assassination of The News and Geo News correspondent Musa Khankhel highlights the extreme dangers faced by journalists in parts of the country that are now war zones for all intents and purposes.
Khankhel was the fourth newsman to be killed in one year in Swat alone. Others have been targeted in the tribal areas while at least one columnist was gunned down by the Balochistan Liberation Army.
Musa Khankhel had feared for his life for quite some time but the brave young reporter chose not to leave Swat even as thousands of residents were fleeing the valley. To state the obvious, freedom of expression doesn’t sit well with extremists. Militants don’t like journalists reporting on their activities, at least not now in the current stage of the insurgency. But according to the paper that employed him, Khankhel had apparently made enemies in other quarters as well.
On Feb 18, aged just 28 and in the prime of life, he died in the line of duty. Ironically, he was covering a ‘peace march’ when he was abducted and slain. He was killed two days after the government signed a deal aimed at restoring peace in Swat.
The identity of the assassins remains unknown and as such the motive behind the killing is a mystery as well. As one would expect, the government is making all the right noises and promising to track down the killers and award exemplary punishment. It has not cared to explain, however, how it will succeed this time round when it has so often failed in the past.
Journalists have been assassinated all over the country by those who cannot abide the truth but justice has rarely, if ever, been delivered by the authorities. If the government cannot guarantee the safety of media persons — in some situations it simply cannot but in other instances it surely can — at least an effort must be made to bring the guilty to book.
On this count the performance of successive governments has been a resounding failure.
Media houses, as pointed out by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, must also ensure that they don’t send correspondents to danger zones without flak jackets and adequate training in the security precautions they must follow. Such assignments must be accepted on a voluntary basis and there must be no coercion by superiors. No one deserves to die for doing his job.

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