By Dr Mohammad Taqi
April 24, 2014
Hamid Mir’s guardian angel was watching over him perhaps. Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist and media personality, survived despite receiving multiple bullet injuries. He may be out of the woods medically but the violent threat to him and the Pakistani media at large has not dissipated. Mir was not the first journalist to be targeted with such brutal impunity and, unfortunately, will not be the last. Someone in the deep, convoluted bowels of society is getting really, really desperate. It seems like the war for the narrative and on those who may shape it has just entered a new and more deadly phase.
After a similar attack on the journalist Raza Rumi last month, I noted in my column ‘Hooked on jihadism’ (Daily Times, April 3, 2014) that “the Committee to Protect Journalists’ optimism notwithstanding, the Pakistani state is unlikely to kick its jihadist drug habit. The space for those citizens, especially media persons who do not conform, will continue to shrink. Raza Rumi, and others like him, will be left to fend for themselves.” The usual suspects seem gung-ho on either taming or eliminating the dissenting voices. The relentless assault on the media appears to be from both the state and non-state actors or some combination thereof. The attack on Express Television this past January was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan while the one on Raza Rumi has apparently been traced to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi ringleader Malik Ishaq. Many attacks, like the multiple bomb attacks on the residence of the Express Tribune’s Peshawar bureau chief, Jamshed Baghwan, have not been claimed by anyone.
Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir Mir — also a veteran journalist who has written extensively about the military-jihadist nexus — has directly blamed the ISI for the attack on Mir. Amnesty International’s (AI’s) Deputy Asia-Pacific Director David Griffiths has said in an e-mailed statement that, in the past three years, “Mir had on two occasions told the Amnesty International that he believed his life was under threat from different actors, including the ISI and the Pakistani Taliban.” Saying that they do not know who is responsible for the attack, the AI has called for bringing the perpetrators to book “regardless of their affiliations to any state institution, political party or any other group”. The Director General ISPR has since refuted Amir Mir’s allegations and an ISPR press release stated, “An independent inquiry must immediately be carried out to ascertain facts.”
The Supreme Court has already constituted a judicial commission, which Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif had asked for, to probe the attack on Hamid Mir. Though a positive move, the judicial probe might not get anywhere if the track record of such commissions is anything to go by. The report of the Abbottabad Commission, which investigated the US raid that netted Osama bin Laden was never released officially. The findings of the judicial inquiry into the murder of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad were made public but drew criticism, including from Human Rights Watch.
What is common between the Abbottabad and Saleem Shahzad commissions is that neither one could conclusively rule out what the former called “something more sinister”. The Saleem Shahzad commission had recommended processes to make both the media and intelligence agencies accountable for their conduct. That report called for civilian oversight over the intelligence agencies to curb the impunity of such outfits. However, going by the massive well-orchestrated pushback that Hamid Mir’s media group, Geo, got for pointing the finger of blame suggests that the security establishment is not about to throw in the towel.
The consistent meddling in Afghanistan via jihadist proxies has earned Pakistan only the ire of the Afghans. The election ink-stained finger became a universal symbol of the Afghans voting not just for their presidential candidates but against any intruders and their backers. While Pakistan has a slew of Afghan jihadists who do its bidding, there was not a single presidential candidate who would want to be seen associated with the eastern neighbour. At home, the jihadist blowback from decades of regional misadventures has taken a toll on the people’s confidence in those who have conceived and prosecuted such disastrous national security and foreign policies. The ongoing twin human rights tragedies in Balochistan complete with mass graves of the Baloch and the ethno-sectarian cleansing of the Shia Hazara are gradually getting registered on the world’s radar. Above all, the attempt to bring former dictator General Pervez Musharraf to book remains the biggest reason his former outfit has been displeased.
The recent media tirades against the defence minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, and the pushback against the Geo media group, which may have gone overboard with its allegations, both seem like desperate attempts to redefine the red lines, which in the praetorian guards’ mind the civilians must not cross. Incidentally, similar media characters, including a handful of retired servicemen, were hard at work in both instances. While the defence ministry lodged the complaint against the Geo group with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to shut that group down, the interior minister is leading the public charge. PM Sharif visiting the injured Hamid Mir around the same time when the army chief visited the ISI headquarters sets an interesting stage.
There is no reason the PM should not be able to stare those down who are insinuating that an Egypt-like scenario can play out in Pakistan. Perhaps no one would be more under pressure than the recuperating Hamid Mir himself. An individual or a department named in his FIR can be a game changer. One can only wish Mir a speedy recovery first. The media at large will keep bickering at its peril; they can stick together or be ‘sorted out’ one by one in more acts of desperation that are unlikely to abate soon.