Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

Freedom of Press and the Greater Danger of Relapse

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Freedom of Press and the   Greater Danger of Relapse

A decade has elapsed after the hard-line Taliban regime was toppled by the U.S-led international intervention in Afghanistan in late 2001. Both Afghan government and international community claim to have taken tremendous strides in various areas and walks of life. These achievements have been made in education and health sectors and in the development and freedom of press and media in the country. While there are still daunting challenges facing these areas, it has to be acknowledged that a substantial progress been made by Afghan government and international community over the last ten years to provide better education opportunities and better health care as compared with the pre-9/11 period. President Hamid Karzai has, particularly, been trumpeting freedom of media and press as a success story and one of the achievements Afghanistan has made under his leadership. In connection to international press freedom day, it is worth casting a glance at the situation of media and press in the country. The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991. It is celebrated on 3 May every year around the globe.

The 2011 World Press Freedom Day celebration is being held in Washington, D.C., USA on May 1-3. This will be the first time the United States has hosted the World Press Freedom Day celebration. The theme of this year's event is 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. The event affirms fundamental principles of media freedom in the digital age—the ability of citizens to voice their opinions and access diverse, independent information sources—20 years after the original declaration was made in Windhoek, Namibia.

As the recent Middle East changes have shown, the technology and new sources of information are playing a vital role in political development and processes of countries. In Afghanistan, media have been playing a significant part in raising public awareness and reporting and reflecting the sufferings of Afghan people. For example, in the past women and children's suffering and pains across the country would remain unreported and thus unaddressed. But today thanks to the growth of media and press, there is a higher level of awareness about women's rights and a broader reporting on the violation of their rights. Media and press have also played an important role in encouraging people to participate in political processes of the country. The media and press have helped inform people of choices before them and the advantages to take the better one. Media and press have also helped expose Afghan people from different ethnic backgrounds to the diverse cultures, which in turn help reduce ethnic biases and bigotries.

Of course media and press community have had their own weaknesses such as lack of professionalism and observance of ethics of journalism. But Afghanistan's hardly-earned achievement in different areas, in particular, in the field of media and press freedom is facing new challenges and threats. The Taliban militants have begun and launched their spring offensive against foreign forces operating in Afghanistan to stabilize the country, Afghan security forces and government officials. It began on May 01. The militants launched their assaults officially as on Saturday, April 30, 2011, the hard-line militants said in a statement that "the Leadership Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to declare the launching of the spring military operations named as "Badar" to be waged against the invading Americans and their foreign allies and internal supports." Just a day after the Taliban militants announced, through a statement, the beginning of spring offensive, a 12-year-old suicide bomber killed four people and wounded a dozen in eastern province of Paktika. This was a rare incident to see children used in carrying out the suicide attacks, which lead to civilian casualties and it shows the violence of Taliban thinking but unfortunately the government has lost its mobilizing strength to question the Taliban line of thinking, which runs against humanity and Islam alike.

The militants have warned Afghan people to stay away from places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign forces in all parts of the country. While President Hamid Karzai continues to pursue his humble efforts for making peace with the militants, they, once again, have said that they would continue to fight until foreign forces leave the country. The announcement of increased attacks will be as a nightmare for the Afghan public who often fall victims to the suicide attacks, roadside bombings and other terrorist activities because the targeted forces have enough equipments to avoid such attacks while the ordinary people do not have anything to help them avoid. The militants may also increase their appalling tactics of kidnapping and abduction or hostage-taking as there is a broad definition for "internal support", which is one of their declared targets. Before this, the militants have been kidnapping and killing those who work with Afghan government, national and international organizations.

The declaration of spring offensive will add to the public concerns across the country and may disrupt the daily lives if measures are not taken to ward off the offensive. Measures could include increased intelligence and mustering local support to inform security officials of suspicious people in their areas and localities. Foreign and national forces must begin to squeeze the militants before they organize themselves. It will be stupid to let the militants come and meet them in their lion's den. Lack of security brings about obstacle to the development and growth of media among other things. In fact, if the ongoing violent insurgency is not tackled effectively, there is the concern of relapse into dark years. The Ministry of Information and Culture has been reporting cases of journalists being killed, kidnapped or threatened by Taliban militants, insurgent groups, international forces, government agencies and local strong men. The life of media and press and their development and freedom is closely linked with the overall situation in the country.

Sher Alam Saqib is the permanent writer of Daily Outlook Afghanistan and Writes on National and International issues. He can be reached through mail@outlookafghanistan.com

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