Even as Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist, recuperates from an attack by unidentified gunmen about a week ago, perhaps a greater concern than the lack of security for scribes in the country is the threatening stance that its military establishment has taken.
The defence ministry has demanded that the Pakistan's biggest news channel and Mir’s place of work, Geo TV, should be shut down for accusing the country's dreaded Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of masterminding the attack on him.
As if a law unto itself, the Pakistan defence ministry has said in a statement, “The news channel (Geo TV) has breached the code of conduct by accusing Director General of ISI Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam of masterminding the attempt on senior journalist Hamid Mir. All those who are involved in the mala fide broadcast, riddled with baseless allegations, will be taken to task.” Further, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, according to BBC, has urged Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to cancel Geo's licence.
The defence ministry’s tough talking comes after Geo TV carried an interview with Mir's brother who directly accused the ISI of ordering the attack even as the station aired a picture of Lt. Gen. Islam, the head of the ISI.
Widely known as the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden after 9/11, Mir has survived a proven attack by the Taliban in 2012. ” 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,” says rediff.com.
The starting of the year has been particularly bad for journalists. Senior Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi, an editor for The FridayTimes and an anchor for the news show “Khabar Se Agay” on Express News, and a very active individual on social media, was attacked last month in Lahore. Unidentified gunmen fired on his car near the Raja Market neighbourhood. Rumi and his guard were injured, with driver, Mustafa, succumbed to his injuries later.
Even before the attack on Rumi, three Express Media Group media workers were killed by unidentified gunmen in Karachi.
A day after the attack on Mir, DW correspondent Abdul GhaniKakar reported he was attacked in the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta. According to Abdul Ghani Kakar, a freelance correspondent for DW based in Quetta, Pakistan, three armed men followed him on April 20, and "rammed their vehicle" into his car in a possible assassination attempt. The unknown assailants fled the scene after attacking him, Kakar reported, adding that two passers-by had been wounded and that he had sustained minor injuries.
The correspondent for DW's Urdu service had said he had been getting "threatening phone calls" for the past few days.
Rediff says, “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.”
Various media monitoring bodies have put Pakistan on the top of the list, in being one of the most dangerous countries for journalists across the world. According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, seven reporters lost their lives in Pakistan in 2013 while a 2012 UNESCO report ranked Pakistan "the second most dangerous country for journalists the world over" after Mexico.
The problem is not just that journalists are highly insecure in Pakistan but that they often court dangers thinking they had become too big to be touched by the scourge of militancy. Take the example of Mir. At one time he was favoured much by the ISI who even reportedly funded an Urdu newspaper edited some years ago.
At that point in his career, Mir even espoused the cause of jihadi terrorists and was known to have had very close links with them. According to various reports, as Mir’s career graph changed and he became globally known as a journalist, he took his former patrons head on and “the attack on him is likely to have a salutary impact on other journalists who were outspoken, something that is already becoming apparent in the sort of guarded statements and comments that Mir's colleagues have been making on television and in the print media,” says Rediff.com.
But reports from Pakistan make it amply clear that not just the military, but also the terrorists were waiting to ambush him. Known as someone who was pretty experienced in walking “tightrope on the issue of Taliban” there were times he would slip up and anger the Islamists and fundamentalists very bitterly indeed.
Although the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has denied any involvement in the attack on him, reports from Pakistan say that the Punjabi Taliban have claimed responsibility. However this is contrary to ground reality because Mir is known for long to have established relationship with the Punjabi jihadis, which was clearly evident from a tape in which a conversation between him and the Punjabi Taliban discussing the links of a kidnapped former ISI official, Khalid Khwaja, with the Central Intelligence Agency was recorded. Khwaja was later assassinated by the Taliban.
Even as ISI seethes against Geo TV and claims of Taliban attacked him surfaces, Pakistan continues to show character of a state that is nowhere in control of its government, where militants and military have the last word. What’s more, it seems that to deflect the rest of the world’s attention from them the Taliban and ISI, via the segment of the Pakistan media that’s either funded by it or is supportive of the spy network, have gone to the extent of blaming India, CIA and Mossad of ordering the attack.
This clearly puts in doubt the intellect of those who do so, and these include some senior retired armed forces officers in the country. They have fantastically gone to the extent of saying that Mir is either a RAW or CIA agent, attacked because he had outlived his use; a morning show anchor even doubted that he was injured; another 'analyst' questioned whether the journalist staged the attack himself and accidentally got shot more than planned; yet another blamed the Jang/Geo group for the attack so it could paint the ISI in lurid colours!
What’s poses a greater danger from these figments of imagination and fantasy that that they aim at the heart of Pakistan’s relationship with India, which at best is in a blow-hot-blow-cold mode almost always. It is pertinent to note that the mode is the result of the fact that the uneasy neighbour’s army nearly never toes the line with the civilian government on the issue of improving ties with India.