On superficial glance, he seems to have nexus with Taliban, or a Taliban commander with long disheveled beard on face and traditional Swati cap on head. No one can recognize him except one knowing him personally that the person he came across is severe critic of Taliban regime and bold as well. He has been deprived from the lives of two of his colleagues and Taliban has blasted his office buildings thanks to his overt and covert opposition to their policies. This audacious Muslim man is Mumtaz Sadiq of 45 and rendering his valuable services in Urdu Daily in Swat Valley of Northwestern Province of Pakistan, and he dedicated his professional life for the service of his community.
Mr. Sadiq started his career in an arena of journalism by launching a local magazine titling “The voice of Malakand” in 1988 at remote area of Pakistan under such circumstances when journalistic activities were confined to big cities only and resultantly the distant areas remained uncovered as well as invisible in the national press. On account of giving considerable coverage to the local affairs and issues, this weekly urdu magazine soon received unprecedented popularity among the peoples and later on transformed into a Daily with new name-daily Azadi, (Daily Freedom). Lately, the writer also published another daily Urdu “Khaber Kar”.
Putting his elbows on the table piled up with news and press releases in a busy office in Islamabad, Sadiq recollects his ardor for journalism refreshing his reminiscences of his childhood when he used to study newspaper from a neighbor barber’s shop early in the morning. It is very common practice in the remote areas of Pakistan that people even having slight interest in current affairs usually quench their thrust of news reading by visiting tea stalls, barber shops and small restaurants as their localities lack libraries and prices of newspapers stand beyond their affordability.
What happened actually the newspaper became unavailable due to some unknown reason which made young Sadiq utterly disappointed and an idea of opening his own newspaper came to his mind and he thus dreamt of publishing a news paper from his own town by hook or by crook so as to cater to the journalistic needs of the people under any circumstances. Fortunately, he came out victorious and thus his dream translated into reality; though he was entirely unaware of the fallouts of the working as journalist in developing countries like Pakistan because of excessive pressures, threats and intimidations from both state and non-state actors. It is praiseworthy to say that today Daily Azadi circulates fifty thousands copies publishing stories on variegates tastes. It is comparatively thought to be a good number in an environment when people have lesser penchant for reading for growing use of internet and electronic media in Pakistan where overall readership of Urdu newspapers and periodicals was considered by Audit Bureau of Circulation in 2008 as 4641708. In similar, during the past three month seven million readers visited digital version of the news paper.
His newspapers bore many brunts due to its policy of slash criticism against the government that stopped its advertisements-the major source of local and regional newspapers. In its opponent also includes the government of Jammiat Ulme-e-Islam (A pro Taliban Islamist Party in Pakistan) which left no stone unturned to topple down this local newspaper and banned on all types of advertisements to be granted to the newspaper. However, the government became helpless and kneed down to the protests of its readers and fans who withdraw its decision. Criticizing government media policy he states that the provision of advertisements made to such papers which always present kudos of the government policies, but he believes that such type of tendency is not real threat to the freedom of press or journalism.
Commenting upon the freedom of press in Pakistan, Mr. Sadiq foists an entire blame both on Taliban and ISI-the Pakistan’s secret agency, and considers them the major hindrances as well as the faces of same coin or and identical picture having harmony in policy for dealing with the media. None can afford to bear even the slightest criticism against each other either from press or public. He substantiates his standpoint with numerous incidents of attacks, investigation, intimidations, occupation of his office by Taliban and security personnel and he also faced explosions in his office during the nine years of his journalistic career. He maintains that the ISI and Taliban are playing a game in our homeland and later is still being patronized by the former and it will be disastrous for the press and people, explaining how he has been treated by the both.
“One day 25 security men rushed into the office of my newspaper, expelled out the staff forcefully and remained there whole night, eventually, the news paper couldn’t be published next day.” He and his staff did not care even fig for it and started their publications. Narrating the details of the horrible circumstances in which he and his colleagues have to perform their professional duties, he terms Taliban days as a nightmare when Taliban leaders also keep on coming office, threatening his staff for dire consequences, if they publish something against them. He continued the publication of his newspaper to update his readers even after two of his reporters Abdul Aziz and Muhammad Shahid were killed by Taliban in a short span of time.
When Taliban blasted explosions in his offices, razing his all earning of life in seconds, he decided to shift his publications to Islamabad; however, his more than 40 reporters and representatives are still operatives in these dangerous areas of Northern Pakistan where their lives are at risk due to continued fierce fight between hardcore Taliban and Pakistani security forces. He is also worried about the safety and security of his field reporters who don’t have any experience of working in a state of belligerence. He asked international media organizations to provide required professional training and assistance to journalists working in war zone so that become able to cope with the permanent danger of death and destruction in fierce war fought between Military and Taliban militants.
Now, about 3 million people from Swat and Malakand have migrated from their native homes after current military operations in Northern Pakistan, he has not left his readers at the mercy of circumstances, Sadiq established relief cell in his publication to help millions of internally displaced people (IDPs) whom a large number consists of readers of his newspapers which admittedly exhibits that he values his readers more than consumers, ‘people are our real asset and we can not leave them alone, we would do whatever we can to help them,” vows Sadiq with strong determination.
(The writer is freelance journalist and social activist. He could be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org )