Afghanistan’s ban on Pakistani newspapers

bY Rasul Bakhsh Rais

There are many ways leaders of a nation can isolate themselves from the rest of the world. It is not mere geography, terrain or lack of communication facility but a mindset. Afghanistan has been historically isolated for some of the above reasons, but today, doing so voluntarily or under foreign coercion would work against self-interest. No rational, practical leaders in the contemporary world would like to seek isolation; rather connectivity is the modern currency in international affairs.

The connectivity with the neighbours, friends, adversaries or neutral, whatever the nature of relationship is most important thing. Even from an adversarial position, it is better to understand the enemies, its thinking, culture, values, power and interest. Afghan and Pakistan are not adversaries or enemies so would like to portray for their own political reasons or by narrow and selective reading of the history of the two countries and the region. Relations between governments have on occasions been complex and problematic but never between the peoples of the two countries. Cultural, ethnic and tribal affinities are so strong that people keep crossing the borders even when governments are not on talking terms. This reality is lost on the current rulers of Afghanistan, and has in the past been lost to earlier myopic rulers of the country.

The Afghans cannot simply wish Pakistan, a bigger and much more powerful country away. Nor can Pakistan treat Afghanistan unequal in its relationship. The two sovereigns equal and equally respecting sovereignty of each other will create the right regional environment for peaceful co-existence. Look forward to the withdrawal of foreign forces within next 24 months or so, Afghanistan and Pakistan must address mutual suspicions, mistrust and build bridges for better, closer and friendly relationship.  One way to do so is to keep the lines communications open between the governmental leaders, civil society and media that today plays such an important role both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was quite shocked to learn that this very critical state when the two countries and the international community is appears to be supporting dialogue among regional powers, dialogue among the Afghan groups and dialogue with the Taliban, the Afghan government has slammed ban on Pakistani newspapers.

This is absolutely shorted sighted and irrational approach. Pakistan has many problems but one of the remarkable developments that have taken place is freeing of media and its proliferation. With this the public is better informed, the quality of discourses on social and cultural issues is certainly better than it was couple of decades back. Afghan media, particularly the electronic one has also come to play an important role today. What is then the problem with Pakistani newspapers?

The problem is of course, some of the things that perhaps some of the newspapers printed were not to the liking of the Kabul authorities. It is also possible that some of the papers were unfair, uninformed and might be harsh in comments. But this is the stuff the media around the world is made of. Sensationalism, harshness and prickly tone is always the first choices of the media, print or electronic.

Afghanistan is a sovereign country and can take any decision it wishes to, but it needs to learn from its own history and history of other countries. Banning media is neither possible nor a useful device in the age of Internet, which itself has developed fast and proliferated in Afghanistan. It is a good development. Banning the Pakistani newspapers, I mean all, and in all languages smack of only prejudice, discrimination and very much against the spirit of developing friendly relations between the two countries.

Our leaders and publics need to be informed about what is going on in the other country. Preventing the Afghans, tens of millions that have lived in Pakistan, millions that were born here and have learnt the Urdu language from reading Pakistani newspapers is unfair, unjust and counter productive to the efforts that we are all interested in to start a dialogue and conversation among ourselves.

Afghanistan, more than Pakistan needs access to Pakistani media. This self-imposed isolation and cutting its people from media sources of Pakistan will neither help the government of Afghanistan to succeed in selling its point of view nor will it help in creating the atmosphere for mutual accommodation and harmony. Sooner this ban is lifted the better.

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