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Taliban Angered By Pakistani Journalist's Writings


Pakistan is under pressure to crack down on violent Islamist groups. A good deal of that pressure comes from India, which blames a Pakistani group for last month's attacks in Mumbai. And some of the pressure comes from Pakistanis themselves, who have spoken out against their own country's extremists. They've spoken out despite the danger to themselves. One of those journalists is a regular guest on this program. Najam Sethi has helped us understand events like the killing of Benazir Bhutto, and now he's paying a price for his views. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES: Najam Sethi lives in Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan. The city's home to much of that country's intelligentsia. He's editor of two English-language newspapers, the Daily Times and the Friday Times. He's one of Pakistan's most prominent journalists.

Mr. NAJAM SETHI (Editor-in-Chief, Friday Times, Daily Times): We have a broadly secular, liberal outlook, and we are all for integration in the global economy. The mood in this country is different. The mood in this country is one of strong anti-Americanism and religious nationalism.

REEVES: Sethi watched with horror as the influence of the Taliban and its allies has spread through his country. He says he considers Islamist militants a threat to his nation and says the war against them is Pakistan's war. He's made those views clear in print. This hasn't made him popular. Sethi says he's come under furious attack from anchormen from some of Pakistan's dozens of new TV news channels.

Mr. SETHI: I'm seen as a troublemaker. Most of the media in this country doesn't agree with me. It is imbued with religious nationalism and anti-Americanism, and it's not ready for a rational debate.

REEVES: The militants also aren't ready for rational debate. Sethi says an Islamist magazine has published his name at the top of a list of five Pakistani journalists it says should be eliminated. He's been getting death threats, delivered by hand to a post office right by his home.

Mr. SETHI: We have a copy; it's here.

(Soundbite of paper rustling)

Mr. SETHI: This is the picture of a man they call an American spy whom they beheaded. And they've sent this to me. They said, this is going to be your fate. We received a letter with it which simply says that these are the charges against you; you should either repent or you will be killed. Then they sent a second letter saying, you have not repented and there will be no third letter. So, after the second letter, I showed it to the intelligence agencies here, and they said this is a credible threat, and after which I asked the government for protection, and now I have police and paramilitary protection. I spend most of my time at home.

REEVES: Pakistan's editors are used to getting into trouble for criticizing the army or the government. Sethi's spent time in jail for accusing a previous Pakistani government of corruption. He says when that happens, you can lobby behind the scenes and campaign. It's different, though, when you're dealing with violent extremists who operate outside the framework of a state or society.

Mr. SETHI: The problem with Islamic non-state actors is that it is a belief system, which is what triggers all suicide bombings. And so there's no answer to that. There's no response that you can give to that. You cannot even get into a rational debate. You can't go to a court of law. If tomorrow somebody decides to get it into his head that he wants to kill somebody in this country, it's the easiest thing in the world. There's nothing to stop you. The state is not there to protect its citizens.

Dr. HASAN-ASKARI RIZVI (Political Science, University of the Punjab): I think the real threat to media is not now coming from the Pakistani state.

REEVES: That's Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political analyst also from Lahore.

Dr. RIZVI: It is coming from these religion and extremist groups, because Pakistani society has become more intolerant over time. And that is why these media people do get threats; they get letters from Taliban, why you are publishing this, why you are publishing that?

REEVES: Sethi says living under permanent threat is taking its toll.

Mr. SETHI: I spend most of my time at home, or I travel so that I'm not in any one place at any time. I have asked my daughter not - she's at Oxford in England - I've asked her not to come back for the holidays. I constantly tell my son to go back, but he doesn't listen to me.

REEVES: He says it's hardly what you'd call a normal life. Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.