- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan has expelled an American journalist who wrote in the New York Times Magazine about the rise of pro-Taliban militants in this key U.S. ally, a press rights group said yesterday.

A Pakistani official denied that Nicholas Schmidle had been deported, however, and said the American lacked a journalist visa. Mr. Schmidle, a visiting scholar at Pakistan’s state-run Institute of Strategic Studies in the capital, Islamabad, occasionally wrote newspaper articles.

The Interior Ministry issued a deportation order to Mr. Schmidle on Tuesday — less than a week after his report “Next-Gen Taliban” appeared in the magazine — the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

“CPJ 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,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

Mr. Schmidle’s article, published on Jan. 6, was based on interviews with some of the officials, clerics and fugitive militant leaders who were on the run or fighting security forces in the valley of Swat and in tribal areas along the Afghan border.

To write it, he “secretly traveled” to militant strongholds, prompting authorities to expel him, a security official said.

An official at the press information department said Mr. Schmidle was not in the country on a journalist visa.

The official, who also declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the information ministry served a deportation order on Mr. Schmidle because he had traveled to “sensitive areas” — but then withdrew it. He did not say why Mr. Schmidle then left Pakistan on his own accord, he said.

Journalists must seek permission from the Interior Ministry before traveling to volatile northwest Pakistan, where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are thought to be hiding, and where Taliban militants plan attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Speaking from London on Friday, Mr. Schmidle told the CPJ that he was “extremely disappointed at being asked to leave Pakistan,” and that his visa contained “no restrictions whatsoever,” the group said.

The magazine’s editor, Scott Malcomson, told the CPJ that authorities did not explain to Mr. Schmidle why he was being deported, but he said the move was clearly connected to his writing.

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