U.S. Journalist Is Ordered to Leave Pakistan

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 13, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 12 -- An American freelance journalist and scholar based in Pakistan was ordered to leave the country this week after writing an article that might have been deemed unflattering to the Pakistani government, according to friends, colleagues and a U.S.-based media rights group.

Nicholas Schmidle, a frequent contributor to Slate magazine and a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington, was served with a deportation notice at his Islamabad home Tuesday night and left Pakistan on Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

Under an arrangement hammered out with Pakistani officials, his departure would not be recorded as a deportation if he agreed to leave the country, according to a colleague familiar with the deal.

His wife, an American student studying in Islamabad, was asked to leave with him.

"I am extremely disappointed at being asked to leave Pakistan, where my wife and I had lived since February 2006," Schmidle said in an e-mail. "We love the country, we love the people there, and we hope to be able to go back soon."

An Interior Ministry spokesman, retired Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, denied that Schmidle had been expelled. "He's gone of his own accord -- there hasn't been a deportation order," Cheema said, adding that Schmidle could return to Pakistan "whenever he wishes. He can come back at his own accord."

Pakistani journalists are often threatened and intimidated by government officials. President Pervez Musharraf launched a crackdown on the news media when he suspended the constitution and declared emergency rule in November, and many media restrictions remain in place despite the lifting of the emergency in December.

Although foreign journalists are rarely the targets of such measures, several have been harassed recently and, on occasion, assaulted by men who appeared to be connected to the country's shadowy intelligence services. In November, three British newspaper correspondents were ordered to leave the country after their paper ran an editorial critical of Musharraf.

The Committee to Protect Journalists "is unfortunately accustomed to reporting on the government's attacks on the local media, but now harassment seems to be spreading to foreign journalists as well," Joel Simon, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "At a time of growing crisis in Pakistan, perhaps the worst tactic for promoting calm is for the government to silence the press."

Schmidle was in Pakistan on a visa typically given to scholars and did not have the special visa issued to journalists, according to a friend who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the case. That might have been used as a pretext for his expulsion, the friend said.

But Schmidle's fellowship included writing assignments, and he had written extensively for two years for various publications, including The Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor and the New Republic, his friend noted. "The basic point is that he was expelled because of his writing, so it is a freedom of the press issue," she said.

Schmidle's deportation order did not list a reason for his expulsion, according to two people who saw the document. The order came after an article by Schmidle titled "Next-Gen Taliban" appeared in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. The 5,300-word story included interviews Schmidle had conducted with pro-Taliban leaders who operate freely in areas of Pakistan's Baluchistan province and in North-West Frontier Province.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company