There are few incidents which so neatly demonstrate the instability of Pakistan as today, when the tossing of a single shoe some 4,000 miles away sparked another massive series of riots in Karachi and left one of Pakistan’s largest media companies contending with a de facto ban.
Incredible, but true. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s controversial visit to England continued today, and during a visit to Birmingham, West Midlands, Sarfar Mohammed Shamim Khan threw a shoe at him. The shoe didn’t hit, but the impact was felt half a world away.
The Jang Media Group’s Geo News channel did what is apparently the unthinkable: they reported on it. Within hours government officials were contacting cable operators across Pakistan and ordering them to stop carrying Geo News. Members of Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) burned a number of cable offices in Karachi in retaliation for operators that refused to comply with the de facto ban.
It didn’t stop there. Reports also have PPP activists attacking newstands and seizing copies of the Jang and The News newspapers, both properties of the same media group that owns Geo News, and burning them en masse. Counter-protests in favor of Geo News are reportedly being planned in Islamabad.
Jang in general and Geo News in particular have often run afoul of the government, and this is the third time the station has been banned in less than three years. President Pervez Musharraf banned it in late 2007, while President Zardari ordered it banned during the Long March last year. The US embassy has also condemned Geo News in September for reporting the presence of Blackwater forces in Peshawar, despite the fact that the story was also being confirmed in a number of foreign media outlets.