I have been back from Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural center and “City of Poets", for a while now. It was one of the most inspiring journeys I’ve been to.
Just a few weeks ago we’ve been at the same place where - a few days ago - six policemen were killed and several cricket players from Sri Lanka wounded in a terrorist attack. We were also constantly under police protection. Our hosts were very concerned for our safety.
I went to Lahore to document the conference “Covering Each Other In An Era Of Imagined Clashes Of Civilizations” (see summary in Norwegian), part of the Global Inter-Media Dialogue). Journalists and media researchers from Norway, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh participated.
Terrorism was one of the main topics during the whole stay - both during and outside the conference. Among other things, the impact of the so-called “war on terror” on global journalism was discussed. Being an journalist in conflict areas has become much more dangerous if you are not willing to let you embedd - and censor - by the military: Not only in Gaza, but also in Iraq and in Pakistan, journalists are hindered in doing their job.
Every Pakistani we met was worried about the “talibanisation” of Pakistan, but also about the drone attacks by the USA in the semi-autonomous “tribal areas” along the Afghan border. The drones are supposed to target Al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists, but mainly kill innocent children, men and women.
Before my departure I wrote about a Pakistani anthropologist who fights for young girls’ right to education in Taliban-controlled Swat in the North. In the same region, a few days ago, Taliban killed journalist Musa Khankhel, a colleague of one of the speakers at the conference, Hamid Mir. ‘He saved me, but I could not save him‘, Mir commented on rediff.com. One day before the recent attack in Lahore, Mir wrote the piece “Don’t create another Swat in Punjab“.
All these issues are debated in the newspapers, several of them are written in English as f.ex The News, Dawn, The Nation or Daily Times. They are of high quality, especially the opinion section where many academics contribute regularily with comments and analysis. Some of the interesting texts are Such is life… in Swat written by a history teacher who had to flee from Taliban, or Forget Gaza, care about Swat and Missing the essence of Talibanism
People in Lahore are troubled about the recent development - something that Imran Khan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Lahore, captures very well in the article Lahoris lament ’shameful’ attack - an aspect that is often missing from mainstream “Western” coverage. When talking with Lahoris, we were often confronted with the negative images that “Western media” spread about Pakistan.
So due to the security situation and Pakistan’s negative image, I suppose, we hardly saw any tourists. Everywhere we went, we became an attraction. People approached us, said hi and shook hands and started a conversation. Some even wanted to be photographed together with us. Needless to say, we only met friendly people.
I was very impressed by the two universities we’ve been at. I have never seen such a huge campus before as at the University of the Punjab in Lahore. At the University of Gujrat they are building seven spectacular “ships of knowledge". 70% of the students are women. Something I found strange is the role of religion: The conference started with Qur’an recitations and some speakers started their lectures with a short prayer. “That would have been impossible in Indonesia", the delegates from Jakarta commented.
Interesting for us who engage for open access to scholarship is the icon “Journals” on the front page of the website of the University of the Punjab. A click on it leads us to a list of departments that edit and publish their own journals. And most of them are available online as pdf’s (the current and the previous issue). Journals in Pakistan do not seem to be commercialised as it is the case in Europe and America.
Among the journals with online content we find Journal of Political Studies (including an issue about the “war on terror”), the philosophy journal Al-Hikmat, the Journal of Pakistan Vision, the Oriental College Magazine and the Oriental College Research Journal