Meena Memon’s ‘Reporting Pakistan’

Frequent media interactions between Pakistan and India could end the current state of limbo the relations are in and the attitude of suspiciousness from both sides. This could neutralize the situation for journalists in both countries.

This comment by Meena Memon in her book ‘Reporting Pakistan’ explains the situation. She was daily The Hindu’s third women to work as correspondent in Pakistan until she was expelled by Pakistan in May 2014. Meena had gone through a rollercoaster ride during her nine months stay in Islamabad.

She said there were no media exchanges between two countries and that is the reason maturity cannot be seen on both sides. She was of the view that Pathan Kot attack in January 2016, Uri attacks in September 18, 2016 in Indian Occupied Kashmir and arrest of Khulbhushan Yadav had brought both countries relations to the lowest ebb. Yadav who Pakistan said is an active Indian Navy officer, a charge which India denies and says that he is a retired Navy officer.

It was love and hate situation at the same time for Meena as most of the things she was expecting to happen in Pakistan as per her senior colleagues predictions did not happen.

She said if an Indian said something in favour of Pakistan then the Indian public would lambast her or him and straight away tell them to go to Pakistan ‘Right Now!’ Meena throughout her book built a case against this mindset which quickly jumped to make opinions without understanding the reference and context.

The major portion of her book is about her experience of living in Islamabad from an Indian’s point of view. She called Islamabad as ‘unreal city’. It is well planned and clean city, which she says one could not have imagined. She loved the trekking on Margalla hills.

It appears funny when she talks about the girls wearing jeans and there being Dunkin Donuts available on the Motorway as I think the same must the situation in India. There too it is only in major cities where you will see young girls in jeans or western attire. The rest of India we see is same old traditional way of living. Or perhaps her perception of Pakistan before coming here must be of pre-historic land. She writes as if she has come from some high street cosmopolitan environment of the first world. Perhaps she does it to make the reader enjoy

Remembering her missed opportunities of interviews, Meena said she was not allowed to interview the then Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif as the media team of NS said ‘She was not Burkha Dutt’.

Meena is short of a story teller who built a case first than started narrating her experience in Pakistan to her readers. She has managed to write news pieces with a restricted and ‘monitored’ movement. She said being an Indian she was only allowed to do stories only in Islamabad apart from foreign correspondents who got restriction-free visa to move all over the country. But then such things are bilaterally decided as Pakistan’s nationals too get visa only for certain cities in India.

She said visiting the crowded Afghan refugee camp on the outskirts of Islamabad was unique experience.

She praised Pakistani journalists’ bravery. People in Pakistan are helpful, spoke freely even in situations which were dangerous for them. She said a small community of journalists and human right activists struggle to keep the country sane by raising their voices against extremism and terrorism.

She also met a small community of Christians living in 400 tents on outskirts of Islamabad who had been forced to flee Meharabad after the infamous Rimsha case.

Commenting on the terror wave in Pakistan, Meena said terror comes in many forms and suicide bombings were unending and that she herself survived one such attack.

The ATC court case hearings of seven accused in 26/11 Mumbai attacks including Lashkar-e-Taiba Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was one of most important assignments for her as she was correspondent of daily The Hindu in Pakistan. She went at hearing where she tried to meet government prosecutors. Till March 2017, the 17th hearing of the case little progress had been made, Meena said.

She discussed in detail the Pakistan government talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan which stopped due to death of Hakimullah Mehsud (TTP chief) in a US drone strike even though she was not around when it all happened. Same is the case with the arrest of Kashmiri Muhammad Sohaib Aadrabi and Dr Shakil Afridi who helped CIA to nab Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. She did not report these incidents as she was not in Pakistan when they happened. She has discussed them to give her own point of view and had used no voice from Pakistan.

Meeting with Queen of Soul Abida Perveen was also a perfect treat for her as she learned about Ruhaniyat (soulfulness).  

Like any correspondent based in Islamabad, she wanted to do so many stories and one of them was a visit to historic Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi. She said she had fear that being an Indian she would not be allowed to visit and her fears proved to be true. She quoted her friend who said brewery went to the ‘wrong’ side (Pakistan).

Reporting Pakistan is a book which explains many unfinished agenda and wishes of The Hindu correspondent. One of them was to do a story on Gah village of Chakwal District the birthplace of ex-Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. Another wish which remained in her heart as she did not get permission to go outside Islamabad was on Bangay, District Faisalabad birthplace of freedom movement hero Bhagat Singh. She wanted to do a story on ancient city of Taxilla but did not get permission from government officials to visit it.

Meena consciously knowing the Indian audience has also passed scathing commentary on the shrinking space of freedom of expression in India. She said NGOs who have taken on government are at the receiving end of official pressure that is why they are facing court cases, their bank accounts are often frozen and the foreign aid is stopped. Human rights groups are denied permission as some areas as Kashmir (Indian Occupied).

Her most memorable days included covering Pakistan’s Parliament sessions at the Press Gallery. She found the ambience more relaxed in comparison to Indian Lok Sabha (Parliament).

She has also discussed Pervaiz Musharraf’s treason trial held in 2013. The former president was on his way to court when he had health problems and was hospitalized. Meena said she wasted her two mornings as she waited for him at the court. In the book, she has also discussed the stories that she did on left wing parties of Pakistan.

Meena was expelled on May 18, 2014 after interviewing Mama Qadeer who according to her surpassed Mahatama Ghandhi in ‘Dandi March’ as he travelled 3,300 kilometres from Quetta to Islamabad. She said Indians like many things about Pakistan and one of them was Zindagi TV channel which showed Pakistani plays and shows.

Meena’s book ‘Reporting Pakistan’ is ends on a hopeful note with Nehru’s quote ‘It is inevitable for India and Pakistan to have close relations.’

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