ISLAMABAD: “He must be very happy that I am here in Pakistan, we had a plan to come to Islamabad together but that could not happen because … (a pause),” Kati Marton shared thoughts recalling her late husband, Richard Holbrooke, former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, not long ago a household name in our region before his death in December 2010. Marton stopped short of using the word ‘died’ for him.
Being Holbrooke’s widow is not her only source of introduction. She is an award-winning journalist and author of eight books. Marton is in Pakistan in her capacity as board member of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to discuss with higher authorities the security issues facing Pakistani journalists. She was seemingly touched with the memories of her husband with whom she had visited number of countries of the world but Pakistan.
Holbrooke was her second husband. Marton’s first marriage was with Peter Jennings, a journalist. She had met Holbrooke, a career diplomat, in New York, and tied the knot with him in 1995. A Hungarian-American, Marton had deep memories attached with Budapest, a city where she was born, raised and later chose for wedding ceremony as she went for the second marriage.
We were introduced to each other by Bob Dietz, CPJ’s director Asia, only Thursday night at a dinner in a local hotel.Marton’s questions about the journalists’ security in Pakistan to the participants of the dinner forced me to request our friend Bob Dietz for having an appointment with Kati. The next morning I was sitting with her one-on-one, thanks to Bob, whom one always found smiling.
Marton, who led the CPJ delegations in meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the other day, recorded her impression about it. Nawaz Sharif was very happy to see her due to his close association with Holbrooke. PM Nawaz Sharif told Marton that her husband would reach him often when he was even in the opposition. Holbrooke had urged him not to participate in the Long March due to reports about serious threats to his security, PM told Marton.
“Mr Sharif did not forget that and he shared this with me how my husband had phoned him and how much he was concerned for his life,” Marton said.In March 2009, during the lawyer’s movement, Nawaz Sharif led a long march from Lahore to Islamabad to restore the judges of the superior courts who were sent home by former dictator Pervez Musharraf.
Hours after starting the long march the then Army Chief Gen Kayani had informed Nawaz Sharif that his demands had been accepted by the government, marking the end of this historic march. Nawaz Sharif for the first time revealed this that not only the then Pakistan People’s Party government and military but also US authorities did not want him to join the long march.
What was the reaction of the PM when you raised the issue of security of Pakistani journalists, I asked Marton. “It was really unusual because he was not defensive,” she said. And she explained how. “Whenever I meet with any head of the state I find them defensive trying to tell us that we have some wrong information. PM Sharif was altogether a different man. He neither defended nor disputed our concerns and rather assured us that he would do whatever he could to ensure the safety of the journalists,” Marton said.
The PM went a step forward, she explained, adding two more things in this connection from his side. One was the announcement of special prosecutors to deal with the cases of journalists in all the provinces and the other was the setting up of a committee comprising journalists and government officials to oversee the progress related to the security measures.
PM nominated Ahmed Rashid, the internationally known famous author as the head of that committee, she said. “I found PM Sharif a different kind of head of the state.”Marton was equally upset to note the lack of cooperation from ISI leadership that denied a meeting request. Asked why she wanted a meeting with ISI, Marton said: “I am not naïve, neither was my husband.” She said Pakistani journalists are facing a “combination of threats.”
Asked what motivated her concerns about the security of journalists in Pakistan and the rest of the world, Marton said her father and mother both were journalists in Budapest. They were working for American news organizations. I still remember when I was only six and had opened the door and secret police entered home and arrested my mother, in front of me. My father was already arrested. Marton still feels the pain.
Her parents were later declared the spies of CIA and sent to prison for two years leaving Marton behind with her only elder sister to experience the trauma. Once released, her parents migrated to the US.
Marton has a master’s degree in journalism from George Washington University and started working, first for radio and then television.She also authored several books. Marton believes that Pakistani journalism has a room of improvement but it is doing great.
Her book “The Polk Conspiracy” deserves particular mention wherein she exposed the secret role of US and UK governments in the killing of a journalist. When she told me this I wondered if any Pakistani journalist can dare exposing the role of our governments in a similar way. There was no definite answer in my mind.