The attack against Hamid Mir on Saturday was not the first time that the senior journalist has faced a life attack. In 2012, the Taliban attempted to kill him with a car bomb in retaliation for ‘pursuing the secular agenda’. Neither was this the first time Hamid Mir faced such a threat. In 2011, he released evidence consisting of SMS messages and phone numbers that had been threatening his life. This time, though, it wasn’t the Taliban who were allegedly behind the threats, but the ISI.
Actually, Hamid Mir wasn’t the only journalist receiving such threats at the time as they were also received by Najam Sethi. In both instances, the journalists were allegedly threatened for reporting on allegations of ISI’s involvement in the murder of Saleem Shahzad, the reporter whose lifeless body was found bearing the hall marks of torture only two days after he was allegedly kidnapped by ISI agents. Saleem Shahzad had been reporting about alleged secret talks between the military agencies and al Qaeda. The year before his murder, Saleem Shahzad had contacted the international NGO Human Rights Watch about allegedly receiving threats from ISI against him and his family for reporting on military links to al Qaeda.
The same year that Saleem Shahzad wrote to Human Rights Watch, another Pakistani journalist was suffering the consequences of criticising the military. Umar Cheema was kidnapped and tortured And before Umar Cheema there is a longer list of journalists who have fallen on the wrong side of national agencies.
The law minister in Punjab Province, Rana Sanullah Khan, said that in 2003, when he was an opposition politician and had criticized the army during the presidency of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, he was kidnapped and brutalized in a similar manner.
In January, in Islamabad, the home of Azaz Syed, a reporter for Dawn, the main English-language daily, was attacked by unknown assailants days after he was threatened by supposed ISI agents over an investigative article he was researching related to the military.
Kamran Shafi, a leading columnist and himself a former army officer who writes critically of the military, was harassed and his house was attacked last December by “elements linked to the security establishment,” according to his own account.
In the last several years, journalists in the tribal areas, where the army is fighting the Taliban, have faced special risks and found it increasingly difficult to work for fear of offending either side. In September two journalists were killed in or near the tribal areas, under circumstances that remain unclear.
As news of the attack against Hamid Mir spread, ISPR quickly issued a press release condemning the attack, but went on to include its own warning that ‘raising allegations against ISI or head of ISI without any basis is highly regrettable and misleading, said spokesman of ISPR’.
Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Monday approved three names of Supreme Court judges for the judicial commission to probe the attack against Hamid Mir. But a court that is already feeling tension from the military for the trial of military dictator Gen Musharraf and the ISI’s refusal to cooperate with the Court’s investigation of missing persons.
The irony is that the most effective way to preserve the military’s honour would be to find the actual culprits and hold them to account. If they are not agency men, then the military will be cleared in the eyes of the people. But more importantly, if they were rogue agency men and the military holds them to account, then the brass will have demonstrated that they are the one institution that can be counted on to uphold fairness and justice even when it hits closest to home. And what can be more honourable than that?
Meanwhile, the media groups are falling over themselves to prostrate before the ISI begging forgiveness. News reports are found everywhere chastising Hamid Mir for lacking media ethics in pointing fingers at the ISI without concrete proof (a standard enjoyed by who else in our country?), and Jang Group is telling the whole country that it ‘respects the armed forces of Pakistan from the core of its heart’. Meanwhile, the journalists would be wise to remember that when Express News warned employees not to report anything against terrorists, it also warned against reporting anything on our own military also…