Freedom of the press, Lashkar style
7 September 2002
The Indian Express
Jyoti Malhotra & Tushar Srivastava
New Delhi: One thing General Pervez Musharraf crows about is how free he has kept the press in Pakistan. So free that despite a domestic and an international ban on the Lashkar-e-Toiba, its magazine Voice of Islam is being circulated and sold. In its June and July issues, it even has signed editorials by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the Lashkar’s chief patron, who officially is in detention since the Kaluchak massacre in May. These editorials slam the Musharraf government for its ‘‘changed stance’’ on Kashmir and lament that the ‘‘(Kashmir) freedom movement has been declared as terrorism.’’ The magazine has pieces on how ‘‘war with India will not harm us as much as our decision to surrender our sovereignty.’’ And pages after pages on the Gujarat riots and ‘‘atrocities by Hindu doctors.’’ New Delhi has brought this to the notice of Western leaders since June—most recently, visiting US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage was shown copies of the magazine—pointing out that they are a direct violation of Washington’s ban on the Lashkar and the Jaish after the December 13 attack on Parliament. Mark the printline inside the monthly magazine: Patron, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed; Editor-in-Chief Abu Ahmad; Publisher Amir Hamza; Printed by Intikhab Jadeed Press, Abbot Road, Lahore, Pakistan. Correspondence may be addressed to: Voice of Islam, 4 Lake Road, Near Chowburji, Lahore. Tels : 0092-042-7240946. The Sunday Express called the telephone number and spoke to a worker called Abdul Mannan. He confirmed that the number belonged to the office of the Voice of Islam. And that, indeed, it was run by the Lashkar-e- Toiba and that publication had continued even after the mother organisation was banned by the Pak authorities in January. Asked if subscribers faced any problems, Mannan said reassuringly, ‘‘There is no government pressure.’’ Only, he added, editor Abu Ahmad was not available to take the call. Clearly, Musharraf’s own order is being flouted with impunity across Pakistan—only confirming what Western diplomats have been saying for a while. That they are in broad agreement with India about cross-border infiltration (it went up substantially in August) and that Islamabad has not done enough to dismantle terrorist ‘‘training camps.’’ But they also point to Musharraf’s ‘‘dilemma’’: The Pak President means well and has been trying to clean up but the history of religious fundamentalism has taken deep roots in Pakistan and would take a long time to clear. Still, the banned Voice of Islam is not the only publication freely available in Pakistan. There’s the Tehrik-ul-Mujahideen, affiliated to the Lashkar, which publishes Shahadat, the Lashkar’s Urdu weekly called the Ghazwa Times (chief editor Amir Hamza, executive editor Abdullah Muntazar), which was earlier known as Jihad Times. Interestingly, while the Ghazwa Times reappeared on news-stands in August after a gap of seven months, the Voice of Islam vanished from January-June, the exact period coinciding with Musharraf’s first TV address to Kaluchak. The magazine reappeared in June claiming that the Kaluchak massacre was the handiwork of the Al Mansoorein group.