In one of the more surreal responses to the November 26th NATO airstrike on a Pakistani border checkpoint, Pakistan’s cable operators have given the boot to the BBC news channel.
Three days after the airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan, a private entity, announced it would block all foreign news channels that broadcast ‘anti-Pakistan propaganda.’
International news channels like CNN and the BBC are widely watched in urban Pakistan, home to about 40 percent of the country’s population. Some 69 percent of urban Pakistanis have access to TV, as opposed to only 11 percent of rural Pakistanis.
“Didn’t realize Pakistan’s cable operators were in charge of defending Pakistan’s image,” tweeted Washington-based Pakistani journalist Huma Imtiaz (@humaimtiaz).
The NATO air strike ignited a long-simmering resentment at what many Pakistanis perceive as unfair criticism. More than 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed over the past decade in what is often called ‘America’s war’.
Despite the ban, a spokesman for the Cable Operators Association discussed it on BBC radio.
“This was a patriotic decision taken by the cable news association of Pakistan,” Cable Operators Association spokesman Khalid Arain told the BBC in a brief audio interview. He said the cause was the broadcast of “Secret Pakistan,” a documentary questioning Pakistan’s commitment to tackling Taliban militancy, though that aired November 23rd, before the NATO airstrike. Asked when the channel would be restored, Arain said “After the assurance given by the channel not to telecast anything against (Pakistan).”
The cable operators are a sideshow to the deteriorating relations between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes and gave the United States an ultimatum of 15 days to vacate an airbase in Pakistan. The US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, warns that condolences by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior department officials are not enough at this point. He has urged a formal video statement from President Obama to help defuse the situation, a request that the White House has reportedly turned down.