US-funded radio service asks Pakistan to revoke suspension

Pakistani demonstrators shouting anti-US slogans at a protest in Karachi on Jan 2, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty urged Pakistan to allow it to resume operations on Wednesday (Jan 24), saying officials closed its news bureau in Islamabad and accused its radio service of acting against Pakistan's interests.

The move comes amid a low point in relations between Pakistan and the United States, which has suspended nearly US$2 billion (S$2.62 billion) in assistance, accusing Islamabad of supporting Taleban militants, causing chaos in neighbouring Afghanistan.

RFE/RL says its Pashto language broadcast, known as Radio Mashaal, was a public service to counter extremist narrative in Pakistan's mountainous regions bordering Afghanistan.

"Pakistan's Interior Ministry closed RFE/RL's bureau in Islamabad (on) January 19 following accusations from the country's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency that RFE/RL programmes are 'against the interest' of Pakistan," the news organisation said.

RFE/RL president Thomas Kent demanded the organisation's journalists be allowed to resume their work "without fear or delay".

The Interior Ministry didn't respond to requests for a response.

A senior government official told Reuters the issue with RFE/RL was linked to a faulty licence application, rather than an intelligence directive.

The Pashtun tribal belt along the Afghan border has long been home to Islamist militants who want to overthrow Pakistan's government and install their own brand of Islamic law.

Analysts and human rights groups say space for critical media and dissent has been shrinking in Pakistan.

They say the recent abductions and alleged torture of social media bloggers and writers were part of a campaign to silence dissent.

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