Asia

Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida 'barred from leaving country'

Rizwan Akhtar (C) salutes during a guard of honor prior to a meeting at India's Border Security Force (BSF) headquarters in New Delhi on July 2, 2012. Image copyright AFP
Image caption India alleges that Pakistan's spy agency has close ties with militants, a claim that has consistently been denied

A top Pakistani journalist says he has been barred from leaving the country, after he reported a row between military and government officials.

Cyril Almeida said on Twitter he had been told his name was on the "exit control list", a border control system.

The row erupted over an article saying the government bluntly warned military chiefs Pakistan faced isolation unless it acted against homegrown militancy.

The government rejected the report, calling it "a fabricated news story".

Why is there tension?

Relations between Pakistan's civilian government and the military have often been tumultuous with three coups since independence. Nawaz Sharif's government took office after Pakistan's first ever civilian transfer of power.

But the timing is sensitive because it comes just weeks after India blamed Pakistan-based militant groups for an attack that killed 18 soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir, the deadliest assault on the army there in years. Pakistan has consistently denied any links to the attack.

India has long accused Pakistan's ISI spy agency of secretly supporting jihadi groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, saying they wage attacks against India, particularly over Kashmir - which is claimed by both countries.

The ISI is a military intelligence organisation, seen as a central organ of Pakistan's army and run and staffed by military officials.

Read more: Does the military still control Pakistan?

What did the article say?

The 6 October article by Mr Almeida, published in the English-language Dawn newspaper, quoted unnamed sources who said they were present for a meeting chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the director general of the ISI spy agency, Rizwan Akhtar.

It claimed that the prime minister, Punjab's chief minister and other members of the government raised concerns about a lack of military action against certain militant groups because of their ties to the spy agency. They allegedly warned military chiefs present that Pakistan risked facing international isolation.

The prime minister's office and the Punjab chief ministers office have strongly denied the report saying there was no conflict of that nature at the meeting.

However Dawn stood by the story, saying it had repeatedly fact-checked - and accused the government of "scapegoating the country's most respected newspaper in a malicious campaign".

Image copyright Twitter

Mr Almeida was scheduled to travel to Dubai on holiday on Tuesday, but said on Monday evening that he had received word he would not be allowed on the plane.

"I am on the list - I have seen it and I have been told not to go to the airport," he said on Twitter.

Later he wrote: "Puzzled, saddened. Had no intention of going anywhere this is my home. Pakistan."

What is the significance of the row? - M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

Image copyright AP

Differences between civilian officials and the powerful military may be rarely reported, but they are as old as Pakistan itself.

The country's first elected Prime Minister, Zulkifar Ali Bhutto, was overthrown by the military and hanged following a controversial trial in 1979. A decade later, his daughter Benazir Bhutto was dismissed from office barely 18 months after coming to power.

Since 9/11, the military has sought to control government policy either through direct rule (under former army chief Pervez Musharraf) or later, critics say, by indirectly controlling civilian rulers.

Pakistan's military is accused of using various militant groups as armed proxies against India and Afghanistan, and repeatedly undermining attempts by elected civilian governments to promote trade and normalisation in the region.

However, with behind-the-scenes expressions of unease about this policy by China, civilian leaders feel more empowered, analysts say. They also have an opportunity to be more vocal following the recent rise in tensions with India.

China is the only friend Pakistan has left in the neighbourhood, and it is preparing to sink tens of billions of dollars into an economic corridor it proposes to build through Pakistan.

With Western funding drying up, Pakistan's military is eagerly looking forward to Chinese investment, and may feel responsive towards Chinese concerns.

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