Islamabad has closed down the U.S. government-funded Pashto-language bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Pakistan, describing it as a “hostile intelligence” operation that violates the “interests of Pakistan.”
The move comes amid tensions between Pakistan and the United States over Islamabad’s alleged refusal to stop harboring the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other terrorists fighting U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
In a statement announcing the closure, RFE/RFL declared, “The closure order was issued after Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said on January 12 that Pakistan feels ‘betrayed’ by U.S. criticism that it is not doing enough to fight terrorism and by Washington’s decision to suspend military aid for Islamabad.”
Islamabad claims it rescinded ties with the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration decided to suspend up to $1.9 billion in security aid over Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups.
The Islamabad-based Ministry of Interior reportedly issued the order to shut down the RFE/RL Pakistan wing known as Radio Mashaal.
Pakistan Press Foundation reports:
The notification [to shut down the agency] issued in [a] report of the [Pakistan intelligence agency] Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) said that Radio Mashaal was involved in ‘portraying Pakistan as a hub of terrorism and a safe haven for different militant groups’; ‘propagating Pakistan as a failed state in terms of providing security to its people, especially minorities and [Pashtun]’; ‘showing the [Pashtun] population of KP/ FATA [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa/Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and Balochistan disenchanted with the state’; and ‘distorting facts to incite the target population against the state and its institutions.’
Radio Mashaal chief Amin Mudaqiq denied the accusations that the station serves as a foreign intelligence agency and defended the integrity of the agency’s journalistic endeavors.
“Well, it has been for a while that the Pakistani intelligence agency was pressuring our reports. They were asking questions, where your funds come from, do you have any foreigners in your ranks and things like this,” he said, reports Voice of America (VOA).
Prague, Czech Republic has been broadcasting RFE/RL’s Pakistan branch since 2010.
The agency’s office is headquartered in Islamabad, and the radio covers the tribal areas, Balochistan, and Afghanistan.
In a press release, RFE/RL condemned Pakistan’s move, demanding that Islamabad allows them to resume operations.
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent noted that he was “extraordinarily concerned by the closure” and was “urgently seeking more information about the Pakistani authorities’ intentions.”
Echoing the radio agency, the U.S. State Department told VOA that American officials are closely monitoring the situation, noting that the United States is a supporter of free media across the globe.
Pakistan Press Foundation notes:
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) criticized the government’s decision to ban the transmission of Radio Mashaal. In an interview with Arab News, PFUJ President Afzal Butt said, “It is unfortunate the government has sealed the office of the radio without providing any evidence for its allegations.” Butt urged the Interior Ministry to take the matter to the court instead of abruptly shutting down the radio station’s operations.
Through the U.S. Congress, the American taxpayer funds RFE/RL and VOA.