Words — whether spoken or written — have become one of the most dangerous commodities in our country, as the threat for those who live off them grows. The cold-blooded killing of journalist Mukkaram Khan Atif, proves once more just how acute this threat is. We live in a country which has been declared the most dangerous place on Earth for media professionals by international monitoring groups. Twenty-nine journalists have died since 2004, with eight murdered in 2011 according to the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres. And now, Atif joined them in the grave.
The journalist was shot by two hooded gunmen while he was offering prayers at a Charsadda mosque and the responsibility for his death has been claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The motives are unclear; the TTP may have been angered by some piece of reporting by the journalist, who worked from Mohmand Agency for both the Voice of America and a local television channel. Or he may have been targeted simply because he also worked for an organisation with American links. It is hard to understand how the militant mind operates, but easy to see the tragedy that has befallen another family because extremists in our country remain able to act without any check on their activities, engaging in games of murder as and when they please. The failure to get to the bottom of killings such as that of Saleem Shahzad’s in May last year will have only emboldened them. The judicial commission examining his death has come up with no motive and could not point to the culprits.
It is also clear tribal journalists are at special risk. The organisations these brave men work for in remote, lawless areas which few others can reach, must do more to protect them. Compensation doled out to families is not enough. The state too needs to act so that information can continue to reach people and the voices of journalists are not muffled by guns again and again.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2012.