An Undemocratic Attack on Daily Tawar
In two repeated incidents last week, Daily Tawar, a respected Urdu language newspaper of Balochistan, came under attack by the activists of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO-Mohiuddin faction), the student wing of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal).
In the first event, enraged BSO activists burnt copies of the newspaper in Khuzdar district, which is a stronghold of the BNP and the next day they attacked the bureau office of the same newspaper in Lasbela District. The attacks have drawn considerable criticism from different Baloch political parties and socio-cultural groups. They have termed this as a clear attack on press freedom.
Although Tawar is known as a nationalistic newspaper which supports the Baloch armed groups and the ongoing insurgency, the attack was not orchestrated by the government. It is ironic that copies of the newspaper were burned and its bureau office was attacked by a Baloch nationalist outfit which does not agree with the newspaper’s editorial policy. The attack marks the rise of intolerance in the society and lack of respect for the press freedom. It is, a setback if Balochistan’s largest political party, the Balochistan National Party, sanctions such undemocratic practices.
Newspapers in Balochistan often remain under pressure from government and different political parties. It is understandable why Tawar has come under intense pressure in the recent times. Too small in terms of infrastructure and editorial staff, Tawar has today become the most popular Urdu newspaper in the Baloch districts because of its fearless and regular coverage of the unfolding tragedy inside Balochistan. The government has already banned all forms of official advertisements to the newspaper in an effort to cause the financial death of the newspaper. In spite of all hardships, Tawar has sustained its publication. In the recent times, at least four journalists affiliated to Tawar as correspondents in different districts were whisked away and then murdered by the security forces. Therefore, it should at least be given the credit for regularly publishing the developments in Balochistan both in print and online despite serious threats.
While we do not mince words in condemning BNP and BSO-M for this brazen attack on the freedom of expression, one should also explore the possible reasons that irked the activists and prompted them to burn the newspaper copies. The BNP-M, in the first place, has come under intense pressure from the pro-independence Baloch youth to openly ask for Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan and endorse the armed movement.
The BNP says it stands for Balochistan’s right to self-determination as has been mentioned in the United Nations charter. Disillusioned young activists say “self-determination” is not the same thing as “freedom”. Hence, they say Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the head of the BNP who previously served as the chief minister of the province, should publicly support Balochistan’s “independence”.
Previously, another popular Baloch Urdu newspaper, Daily Asaap, which was forcefully shut down by the government two years back, was believed to be the mouthpiece of the BNP. At that time, the BSO-Azad was as disappointed with Asaap as BSO-M is today with Tawar.
With the closure of Asaap, BNP and BSO-M have failed to find sufficient coverage in pro-government Urdu newspapers like Jang, Express and Mashriq. Though Daily Azadi, a Quetta-based newspaper, has been consistently covering BNP, it has refused to be as submissive and dedicated to BNP as Asaap was. In the midst of no space in the local newspapers and the increasing need for media coverage, BSO-M has opted for such a reactionary measure.
The coverage of news at Tawar has remained very professional and balanced over the years but the newspaper management should also confess that the newspaper’s editorial pages have been exploited by some columnists for their personal aggrandizement. A significant part of press freedom is to discuss issues rather than individuals. Unfortunately, the pages of this important newspaper were used for personal attacks on Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Balochistan’s first chief minister, Mir Ghose Baksh Bizenjo, a respected Baloch leader who died in 1989, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, former senator Sanaullah Baloch, former leader of the opposition Mir Kachkol Baloch, Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood, leaders of the National Party such as Senator Dr. Malik Baloch and Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo.
Every columnist has the right to express their views but the editors at Tawar should discourage personal attacks on leaders who have either a small or a large constituency. After all, all these people may not qualify as “Baloch leaders” in front of some columnists or activists for different reasons, there is no gainsaying the fact that all these people have had an equally important role for raising voice for Balochistan. “My leader v/s your leader” type of discussions do not serve the interests of Balochistan. The Baloch question does not and should not revolve around “my leader v/s your leader”discourse. Newspaper should play their role in empowering the masses by speaking on their behalf.
Activists should be encouraged to do their politics as long as they stay away from dictating newspaper policies. Our job as newspapers should remain confined to informing and educating the masses. Good journalism is all about educating the masses not disrespecting one’s ideological opponents. We hope sanity prevails and Tawar would fulfill the grand responsibility it has on its shoulders as the most admired Urdu newspaper of Balochistan. With the rise of circulation and readership, the responsibilities of a newspaper also increase.
We hope Sardar Akhtar Mengal will move forward to resolve this issue. He should take strict action against BNP activists who committed these brazen assaults on the press. The BNP should apologize to the management of Tawar and make sure that such undemocratic events are not repeated in the future.