In my lifetime, I’ve been blessed with several experiences to remind me of my opportunities. Most though have revolved around my personal life: my amazing family; creature comforts such as shelter, food and shopping; silly things like Cheetos and cake frosting; and simple things such as traffic signals and coffee.
This trip to Pakistan though – through the International Center for Journalists – have helped me realize how much I value my freedom and safety in my career. In addition to a crash course in the country and culture of this fascinating country, much of the focus on this trip has been on journalism in Pakistan. And, of course, the country’s connection to terrorism.
This message was made clear time and time again today. First, we drove by the Islamabad Marriott Hotel en route to our first meeting. In case you need a history refresher, this hotel (about a mile from where I’m staying) was bombed Sept. 20, 2008, when a dump truck filled with explosives detonated in front of it. The blast left a huge crater in front of the well-known hotel in the country’s capital, killed 54 and injured 266. No one was arrested in connection with the suicide bombing.
That – the fact no one was arrested – seems to be a theme of many things here. When we met with staff at Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child they told us of child sexual assaults – no one arrested. When we talked about the murder of journalists with staff at Media Matters for Democracy, arrests have been made in only five of the cases of the 84 journalists who were directly targeted and killed. And of those five, four were prosecuted but no sentences have been carried out. One of the five included the case of American journalist Daniel Pearl, whose beheading was seen across the world in a video released by those associated with Al-Qaeda. The research and data this organization has collected notes 120 journalists killed since 2000: 84 targeted, 29 dying in the line of duty – mostly suicide/roadside bombs from covering terrorist activity – and seven in unknown circumstances.
Their work to help make journalists safer and the press freer is incredible. They are innovative, smart and just really cool people. My absolute favorite part of today was meeting the co-founders of Media Matters, Sadaf Baig, and her husband Asad Baig along with their three-week-old daughter Anna.
One of the biggest barriers for women in any workforce (certainly journalism included) is childcare. The U.S. has its own struggles with affordability and accessibility of childcare but those struggles are on a completely different playing field from Pakistan. There are 200 million people in the country and very few daycare centers. The handful that exists are exorbitantly expensive and not accessible to the average Pakistani family. The couple also has a one-and-a-half-year-old son who spent his first year of life at the center, as this little gal will as well, allowing Sadaf to continue fighting the good fight.
We also stopped by Pakistan TV. This is the state-run television station. And when I say state-run, it means just that: the government determines what stories the station runs, what they can and can’t report and how they can and can’t report it. They are given a list of stories by the government each day and told to be sure they run those stories. Other stories are run by government officials on this network that has both an Urdu station and English-language station.
When we got off the bus there was both a video and still camera trained on the group of eight U.S. journalists in my group. We toured the station and watched a bit of a broadcast. While in the control room, the news about President Donald Trump’s firing of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was in the same place I’m writing this dispatch in October. He visited Pakistan then and has issued several warnings to the country since then including this statement late last year: “We want to work with Pakistan to stamp out terrorism their boundaries as well, but Pakistan has to begin the process of changing its relationship with the Haqqani Network (Afghan guerilla insurgent group) and with others.”
So many stories, so many experiences.
(This story was originally published on March 13, 2018)