The attack on Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s best-known journalists, has reaffirmed Pakistan’s reputation
as one of the most dangerous places in the
world for newsmen.
Mir, who took six bullets, barely survived
the well-planned ambush in broad daylight on a busy road in Karachi when he
was heading from the airport to his office.
The attempt on his life created a storm
in the Pakistani media, more so after his
brother alleged that Inter Services
Intelligence chief Lieutenant General
Zaheer-ul Islam was responsible for the
According to reports in the Pakistani
media, Mir had confided in his friends and
family about the threats to his life from
the ISI and had even recorded his testimony on paper and in a video in the event
something happened to him. As soon as
news of the attack broke, fingers started
being pointed at the ISI.
The military spokesman was quick to
condemn the incident and deny any ISI
involvement. But cut to the bone by the
audacity and temerity of the journalists
who were accusing it of being behind the
attack, the ISI — which is a virtual State
within a State — unleashed its army of
plants in the media to launch a fierce
It was not just against Mir (accusing
him of all sorts of anti-national activity),
but also the media group — Jang/Geo —
that he works for.
For rival channels, this was a godsend
opportunity to pull the Jang Group down
from its pedestal as the most popular and
powerful media group in Pakistan.
For some months now, the ISI has been
using a rival channel ARY to target Jang,
its owner and its journalists. After the
Hamid Mir attack, other channels like
Express have jumped into the act. The
idea is to severely damage Jang’s credibility and popularity and at the same time
increase their market share at Jang’s
What makes the attempt on Mir’s life so
sinister is that it comes against the backdrop of mounting tensions between the
civilian government and the military.
Apparently, the army was pretty cut up
with the government on the issue of former dictator Pervez Musharraf’s treason
trial, the peace process with the Pakistani
Taliban and the trade deal that the government was all set to sign with India.
Things got a little tense after some
rather strong words were used by cabinet
ministers against Musharraf.
Adding further fuel to fire, some television channels started playing an eight-year-old fiery speech by Defence Minister
Khwaja Asif, in which he railed against the
military for meddling in politics.
Things seemed to have cooled down a bit
after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
visited the Pakistan Military
Academy in Abbottabad and
expressed his confidence in the
army and held portray the army
chief, General Raheel Sharif, as a
role model for newly commissioned
But the attack on Mir, coupled
with the allegations against the ISI,
seems to have muddied the waters once
again. Although Sharif has set up a judicial commission of inquiry, the case
threatens to snowball into a test case for
establishing civilian supremacy and making the military accountable.
However, if Sharif tries to brush this
under the carpet, and the army continues
on its offensive against those who question
its dubious policies as well as its monopoly
on defining national interest, then all the
tall talk of civilian supremacy will remain
Already, the government, under pressure
from the army, has retreated on the issue
of opening trade with India. Even on
Musharraf, there seems to be a move
under way to let him off the hook and
allow him to flee Pakistan.
If now the government backs down on
getting to the bottom of the attack on Mir,
then it will be, for all practical purposes,
reduced into a glorified municipality, like
its predecessor. It may survive in office for
a full term, but will wield no real power to
take any important decision without a nod
from the military.
Mir is, of course, not the first prominent
journalist to come under fire, nor will he
be the last. A number of other journalists
have claimed threats from State, quasi-State and non-State actors — hit-lists containing the names of journalists have also
been floating around for some time now.
Interestingly, the ideological per-
suasions of the threatened journalists
cover the entire spectrum of opinion,
as does the source of threats to them.
But more than the threats, which
are a professional hazard in a coun-
try as disturbed, divided and intoler-
ant as Pakistan, it is the sheer
impunity with which journalists are
threatened and targeted that exem-
plifies the dysfunctional nature of the
State and its institutions.
Nothing illustrated this fact better than
the utterly useless report of the commission that investigated the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, who is also
believed to have been killed by the ISI
after he published a story about Al Qaeda’s
infiltration of the Pakistan navy.
Mir, like Shahzad, had frequently been
The attack on Hamid Mir shows the sheer impunity with which journalists are targeted
crossing the unwritten red lines of the mil-
itary by highlighting issues like the
enforced disappearance and extra-judicial
killings by the army and paramilitary
forces, the human rights violations in
in that country, and exemplifies the dysfunctional nature of the State
Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, right, with Osama Bin Laden in 2001. Mir, who extensively reported on bin Laden’s escape from the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan, is writing a book on the Al Qaeda founder.
VISUAL NEWS/GETT Y IMAGES
May 2, 2014