This article has been cross posted from INSI – International News Safety Instiute and has been penned by Shumaila Jaffery (@ShumailaJaffery)
The recent attack on female polio vaccination workers in Pakistan has reinforced the idea in my mind that extremists have found new targets in their objective to hurt those who do not believe in their agenda of killing and hatred. These new targets are women.It all started with the attack on the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai last October. After the international community reacted with utter disgust over the incident, I feel that now militants have made it a point to attack women more vehemently and forcefully than ever before.
Insecurity and fear have been permanent features of life in Pakistan for a while now, particularly for journalists who are not only on the front line of the battleground, along with security personnel and rescue workers, but also on the front line ideologically.
When Malala was attacked I was in South Waziristan working under military protection. When the news arrived fear struck me – I felt as if the walls of Jandola fort and dozens of troops around me were not enough to protect me. It was unprecedented for people of South Waziristan to have a lady reporter and a camera crew among them. Military officers there told me that I was the first woman journalist ever to stay and work there. I felt that I stood out among them and could be targeted very easily. I had the option to leave without completing my project, but I gathered my courage and decided to stay.
Travelling back to Lahore a few days later, I was hoping to get back to a secure environment. But I received an email from my line manager, saying that out-of-city trips would be postponed for some time, and that the crews working outside home stations had been told to move back immediately. I realised that the situation for the media was bad, even outside the Taliban neighbourhoods. Before I could reach home, I received another message telling my team and I that we would be working from our homes rather than from the offices due to a security threat.
By the time I came back to Lahore, the environment had completely changed. I learned that extremists had threatened senior anchors and big media houses for supporting Malala and condemning the attack.
In recent years, Pakistan has become a very volatile, chaotic and dangerous place. We have topped the chart of deadliest country for journalists more than once. Journalists get killed and abducted routinely, but I have never felt so threatened as I did for those few weeks after the attack on Malala.
Being forced to work from home felt like a violation of my fundamental rights. It felt as if we were being punished. But this was just the beginning: one day, while I shopping in the market with my mother, I received a phone call from one of my colleagues who asked me to check with our local security guard whether anybody had enquired about my personal and family details and particularly about my sect within the last few days. He told me that a few journalists had complained that some people had gathered similar information about them, and that a meeting of journalists was organised at the local Press club to discuss this situation.
A wave of fear struck me. After the phone call, my interest in shopping diminished; I could see the face of the shopkeeper but couldn’t hear him. I felt so vulnerable and scared that I asked my mother to leave everything and go home. She kept asking me the reason for being so upset, but I forced her to leave without telling her anything.
For days I was jittery, and changed places constantly. But my colleagues and I continued working – just with a very low profile, for the entire media in Pakistan stood for the values that it believed in and kept working.
It’s not just extremists. Sometimes state actors, criminal gangs, and other armed groups target journalists for different reasons. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently reported that 48 journalists have been killed in Pakistan in the past twenty years.
According to Intermedia Pakistan, one journalist has been killed every 30 days on average. The number of those getting harassed and abducted is much higher, but there is no confirmed data available.
In the local media, there is disparity as far as journalists are concerned. When any senior anchors feel threatened there is an uproar, but when it comes to media workers, working on the ground at the grass roots level, there are no security concerns or arrangements for them.
The culprits involved in killings and abduction of journalists in Pakistan have never brought to account, except perpetrators of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
Shumaila Jaffery is a BBC journalist based in Pakistan. She started her career as a freelance writer and joined Pakistan Television as a reporter and producer in 2000, where she worked until 2007. She joined News Channel Dunya TV the same year as a senior correspondent and assignment editor. She has covered a broad range of stories, from natural disasters and terrorism to human rights issues in Pakistan.