With just six months to go to general elections, it seems that violent non-state actors don’t have the monopoly on trying to manipulate the ballot-box outcome. For the ongoing attack on Pakistan’s free media has just won another round. The Interior Ministry has, reportedly on the recommendation of the country’s security establishment, closed down Radio Mashaal. This may or may not be a case of tit-for-tat retribution. Meaning that Trump Town has hit Pakistan where it hurts in terms of suspending military assistance and, in kind, we have returned the disfavour: cracking down on American media outreach here.Radio Mashaal is part of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcasting family. And it is funded by the US government. Which may or may not explain the Interior Ministry notification making mention of recent broadcasts being against the national interest in line with a hostile intelligence agency’s agenda. Or this may simply have been to a nod the network’s origins that saw it funded by the CIA until 1972. Be that as it may, we condemn the move. Indeed, we stand with global media watchdog CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) when it terms this a direct threat to media freedom; particularly when it comes to challenging established narratives including criticising Pakistan’s military establishment. The Interior Ministry appears to have taken particular exception to what it describes as deliberate measures to portray the country as a hub of terrorism as well as a militant safe-haven.Whether or not this is true, the Pakistani state must bear some responsibility for, at least, its own allegations. Especially considering that the Pashto-language Radio Mashaal was launched back in 2010, in part, to counter the reach of the Mullah Radio phenomenon in Swat. Indeed, the station as well as its local employees had fatwas issued against them by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with the group declaring it “enemy radio”. Thus when violent non-state actors hold parts of the country — state pushback becomes imperative to re-establish its writ. And as an additional bonus, such action will also narrow the margin of US counter-propaganda in regions where it enjoys military presence. After all, parts of the Muslim world have been here before. Next door in Afghanistan, RFE/RL launched Radio Azadi one year after the American military aggression there. Indeed, the overriding objective was to bring democracy to the country in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Sixteen years on, it hasn’t much succeeded. A similar story can be found in Iraq where, once again, the year following orchestrated regime change Washington launched the Al Hurra television channel. Again, we don’t have to wonder how that endeavour turned out. Moreover, such moves have, in some cases, resulted in further radicalisation. The same year that Radio Mashaal was launched saw US elite forces train Yemeni troops in the fight against AQAP. In response, the latter produced the first edition of its slick English language glossy, Inspire. And so the circles and roundabouts continue.We are also mindful of the US hypocrisy in calling us out over the closure of Radio Mashaal when Washington has been active in the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, which includes repeated calls to have Al Jazeera taken off the air. Nevertheless this doesn’t absolve the Pakistani state from its responsibility in reclaiming the space hijacked by an extremist right-wing agenda. For there are those elements that remain unequivocally uninterested in being mainstreamed — settling for nothing more than the overthrow of the state itself. * Published in Daily Times, January 21st 2018.