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05/13/2013

Expelling a journalist out of Pakistan doesn't stop coverage of the story

If Pakistani authorities were trying to stifle coverage of the elections by throwing New York Times reporter Declan Walsh out of the country, it backfired.

So much so that his explusion on the eve of the vote has become part of the election story  -- newly elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif said a briefing that he will look into Walsh’s expulsion after taking the oath of office, Telegraph’s reporter Rob Crilly tweeted.

Last Thursday at 12.30 a.m., Walsh received a short letter hand delivered to his home in Islamabad informing him that his visa was cancelled, according to The New York Times. He was given 72 hours to leave Pakistan.

Walsh, 39, is a veteran reporter. He has been covering Pakistan since 2004, first for The Guardian and more recently the New York Times. 

It is easy to pick on local journalists through intimidation or worse but taking on what is probably the world’s most powerful newspaper is another matter.  The story has been picked up everywhere.

The ministry of interior's decision also backfired in another way because it overshadowed a positive development – this election was the first in Pakistan’s history that one elected, civilian government finished its term and peacefully - so far - handed the reins to another government. 

Pakistani citizens braved many obstacles to cast their ballots, and in huge numbers, too. 

The violence from extremists “did not deter Pakistani citizens from casting their vote in unprecedented numbers and reconfirming their determined support for democratic rule, thereby defying extremist threats and actions,” as the European Union’s election observation mission stated

An experienced, respected journalist like Walsh has been good at teasing out such nuances in a country most of the world sees as a basket case.

As Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper noted in an editorial: “The powers that be must realise that such efforts only boomerang and work to enhance Pakistan’s image as an unwelcome place for journalists.” 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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