Something Fishy About Bid on Hamid Mir’s Life

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Pakistani journalists protest against the assassination attempt on journalist Hamid Mir last week.
Pakistani journalists protest against the assassination attempt on journalist Hamid Mir 

Journalist Hamid Mir had donned the mantle of a moral crusader and stepped on too many powerful toes for his own good

KARAMATULLAH K GHORI

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]o words would be strong enough to describe the gory attempt on Hamid Mir’s life. The universal condemnation of the attempted murder against Geo Television’s ace anchor is not only well focused but also adequately sums up the revulsion felt by all and sundry over this yet another addition to the ongoing saga of mayhem and murder in Pakistan. The country formed in the name of Islam cannot seem to have had enough of rampant and indiscriminate blood-letting.

Journalism has long been a hazardous vocation in Pakistan, largely because of the national weakness of intolerance and bigotry. Added to this is the intoxicating influence of a deep-seated feudal culture that just cannot stand criticism of any kind, much less somebody pointing your mistakes with candor.

Hamid Mir had long ago joined the band of those candid news analysts whose style of dishing out all the truth without cutting corners was anathema to our feudal sensitivities. And since Hamid wouldn’t spare either the politicos or the generals from the reach of his critique his list of enemies was, perhaps, longer than others in his league.

Mir had donned the mantle of a moral crusader among the ranks of his peers. He went all out in defense of the popular backlash against Musharraf’s brazen assault at the ramparts of Pakistan’s top judiciary. Likewise, he seemed to have stepped on too many of the Taliban toes with his trenchant denunciation of their apparently insatiable lust for the blood of the innocent citizens of Pakistan.

Mir, in fact, had the gumption to have taken on the mighty incorporated interest of international Zionism and the so-called Western ‘liberal’ news media when he ventured into Lebanon, circa 2006, as that tiny country was being pulverized by Israel. The incorporated clique couldn’t believe their eyes seeing a ‘pigmy’ anchorman from a ‘terrorism-plagued’ Pakistan daring to expose inebriated Zionist arrogance against the ‘despised’ Hezbollah. What business did he have, they mused, being in the trenches with the valiant Hezbollah fighters resisting the Israeli savagery?

The same question—what business is it of his?—was being asked, lately, within Pakistan by those who felt uneasy over his no-holds-barred and searching expose of the ‘Missing’ or ‘Disappeared’ Pakistanis—the majority of them Baloch—universally believed to have been rounded up by our intelligence agencies—some of them well-known, others not so. Mir didn’t shrink back, at all, from pointing the finger at the frontal role played in this sordid saga by the ace outfit of ISI.

Since late last year—when the government of Nawaz Sharif decided to haul up Musharraf before a special court for his crime of abusing the Pakistan Constitution—Mir had added, in the eyes of his detractors, another black mark on to his roster. He threw his weight behind those calling for Musharraf’s trial like any other citizen of Pakistan. In Musharraf’s case this Pakistani citizen happened to be guilty of treason.

However, Hamid Mir’s ultimate ‘crime’ in the eyes of his enemies was that he was in the limelight all the time, while they sulked in the dark.

As the anchorman of Geo TV’s popular program, the Capital Talk, he hogged the air waves at least four nights a week—an undue advantage, according to his adversaries. He had a facility—a weapon, in their convoluted vocabulary—which they didn’t have. They constantly caviled that he’d been misusing and abusing his advantage while they suffered from their handicap of not having access to the ‘lethal weapon’ of Television, like he did. According to them, they were not on a level playing field.

There’s, as such, a long list of probable assailants of Mir. It could be any one of those very unhappy and very annoyed people who had been carrying a chip on their shoulder against him. He was, in other words, an inviting target for the blood lust of a lot of trigger-happy people. In the lexicon of hired guns and paid assailants Mir had his name on too many bullets.

Which one of his potential assailants had their patience with him snapped? It is too early to say anything with any sense of certitude or finality about it. There’s, however, no doubt that whoever pulled the trigger had the clear intent to silence him for good. That they didn’t succeed in their gory agenda, is a source of satisfaction to all those who have been striving for so long for a free and uninhibited news media in Pakistan.

But that said, it was no less a crime for Geo Television to have taken leave of their senses in the heat of the tragic moment of Mir’s attempted murder. The finger-pointing at ISI and its Chief, Lt. Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam, was totally, totally, unwarranted and in senseless violation of all norms of ethics of journalism.

This scribe has borne the brunt of a lot of angry criticism from those of our fellow-Pakistanis infatuated with the army; they simply think it’s a crime to attribute anything bad to our men in uniform. I’ve, too often, been blamed for my ‘unfair’ critique of the military’s interference and involvement in the strictly civilian business of governance. I stand by my position and see no reason to be apologetic about it. But that doesn’t mean that one should be unfair to the army where there’s no explicit evidence holding them responsible.

No individual or entity has patriotism as their sole property. We are all patriots; we all love our mother country, no matter where we may happen to be at any given time. And if we criticize this or that arm of the state it’s because we feel so much empathy for Pakistan and bleed our hearts at things going horribly wrong in it.

ISI is as much Pakistani as any other organ of state. But it isn’t The State, as some of its factotums or aficionados might think. It’s the misplaced patriotic zeal of some of its factotums and functionaries that has led to ISI’s finger prints found in so many sordid episodes about Pakistan. The other day Aitezaz Ahsan—who has alternately been famous and infamous because of his good and bad deeds at any given moment—came up with a long list of events, incidents, and episodes of national importance where ISI was caught with its hand in the cookie jar.

But that still doesn’t give anybody a license to pass a guilty verdict against ISI, or haul up any of its luminaries in the dock, without explicit and incriminating evidence. That’s the test Geo failed, and failed miserably, in the wake of Hamid Mir’s attempted murder. Just because Mir has had a fracas or two with ISI, doesn’t automatically make our ace intelligence agency culpable in the episode.

And what sheer hogwash this brazen demand is that the ISI chief step down because Mir is reported to have put his name on the list of his enemies. There would be no end to resignations in the ruling elite of Pakistan if this hare-brained idea gained currency.

Let’s not forget the supra-Pakistan ramifications of Geo’s bravado in naming names.

Geo TV is widely suspected of being mentored—if not sponsored with questionable largesse—from those who have long been holding Pakistan in their grudge and have anti-Pakistan priorities hogging their agendas. Among all the institutions and organs of the State of Pakistan, the Army and ISI, in particular, have consistently been in cross-hairs of these forces that mean harm to Pakistan.

It would be too charitable to expect the knaves at Geo, swayed by unprofessional proclivity to make a sensational headline, to have any idea what a lethal weapon they have handed to the enemies of Pakistan.

The screaming headlines in the Indian news media—within minutes, literally, of Geo’s  breaking news — against ISI and the army is an early proof of the enormous damage done to the name of Pakistan. A lot more should be expected to follow. With friends like these in our national ranks who needs enemies?

PM Nawaz Sharif has so far made all the right moves in keeping himself and his civilian set-up above the avoidable ruckus between Geo and ISI. The request to the Chief Justice to name a commission of the apex court judges to look into the episode is also a smart move. The Chief Justice hasn’t disappointed him; a three-judge commission has already been named. But the damage done by a horribly naïve Geo will not be that easy to repair.

The Pakistani news media has done itself a favor by not walking into the trap Geo’s amateur news managers tried to spread out for it. But cracks in its façade of unity are already visible. For its sake, one would wish that the fault lines, that have always been there, don’t open up all too dangerously. That would be bad for everyone.

The episode is far from over. What Hamid Mir would have to say, once he recovers fully and dons his mantle again, will decide if the book is going to be closed on it or reopened with a lot more new chapters added.

All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

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