Quite recently an unfortunate incident occurred in the city of Karachi which has morphed to a countrywide conflagration. On 19th April 2014, renowned journalist and anchorperson Hamid Mir was shot and wounded by unknown gunmen while he was visiting Karachi. Now thanks to Allah he is quite safe and steadily recovering. However the subsequent reaction to this was highly unfortunate and damaging to the nation at large.
Within minutes of the attacks Hamid’s brother Amir Mir stated on Mir’s employer Jang group’s Geo TV channel that the intelligence agency ISI and its head, a serving Army general were responsible. This led to a shock to the entire country. The ISPR condemned the attack and prayed for Hamid Mir’s well being. The ISPR spokesman said an independent inquiry must be carried out immediately to ascertain the facts. He added that raising allegations against the ISI or the head of ISI without any basis was highly regrettable and misleading.
However this did not deter Geo TV from pursuing what many term as a vilification campaign against the intelligence agency. Moreover analysts of Jang group demanded the resignation from the DG ISI while nothing has yet been proven. Hamid Mir is no newcomer over blaming the establishment for any ill falling on him. However, Hamid Mir to be sure has no dearth of enemies. The TTP have openly threatened him and have tried to assassinate him at least once. The Americans too have shown their displeasure over his journalism.
While the person who attacked Mir must be punished by the law and such an action cannot be condoned. However the use of this incident to attack respected institutions of Pakistan cannot and will not be tolerated. Time and again, scores from different backgrounds have blamed the “establishment” for various reasons. Pakistani politicians have blamed the agencies from events like electoral defeats to massive turnout at opponent rallies. Murders have been blamed on the agencies. For e.g. the murder of Habib Jalib Baloch was blamed on ISI before it was found that his own relatives were behind the killing, the deaths of the parents of Justice Javed Iqbal were blamed on the ISI, later the fact arose that the Judge’s own brother was responsible.
What is worrisome is that with time these attacks and allegations on the agencies has not decreased but increased. Almost in a knee jerk reaction, every major act of significance is heaped on to the ISI. What the question arising at this time is why suddenly our defense institutions have become fair game for every allegation imaginable.
Perhaps the factors behind this are both local and global. The Pakistani media has grown from an indicator to a stakeholder. And like all stakeholders, it wants to increase its influence and power to reap maximum benefit. Geo has been rather notorious for trying to browbeat civil governments into doing its bidding. It has clashed with PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) on frequent occasions. On another association GEO tried to get a greater say in PEMRA president of its own choosing. Among other TV channels GEO has the reputation of being hegemonic. It itself has been blamed for unethical actions by former employees and competitors.
Now Geo faces a problem, in the ratings war it has been slipping to other groups. In the news arena it faces serious challenges from Dunya news. In dramas it is hard put to defeat Hum TV and Urdu 1. Even in the films arena, where it has boasted total domination it has been humbled by ARY Films. Now out of the shadows Bol TV is coming on the stage and already gathering several renowned names of the industry. The unfortunate attack on Hamid Mir seems to have become an opportunity for Geo to create a sympathy wave for itself to hold on to its perch. Geo did no such thing when one of its reporters was killed in Karachi during 2011 possibly because it did not face such a threat then.
However there is another instrument against this anti ISI narration, a journalist association SAFMA (South Asian Free Media Association) is rising to prominence among the media community. It boasts several important members including Hamid Mir himself. SAFMA claims to promote “freedom of expression, tolerance, a free press” yet however it has been criticized for hurling abuse at other journalists and verbally mistreating the institutions of Pakistan particularly the military. It has also been alleged to be in league with India’s intelligence agencies as well as being silent on press freedom in Occupied Kashmir. No one knows what its end game or objectives are but what is clear is that currently SAFMA members are on the front of this new anti ISI campaign.
Outside the borders things are horrifyingly similar. The Indian media is notorious for knee jerk anti ISI rhetoric. The western media isn’t far behind. An anti Pakistani military campaign is gaining momentum. A book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 by Carlotta Gall has come out and the blame for America’s setbacks have been laid on the ISI. Gall’s sources are gut instinct and hearsay. Another article by Mira Sethi (Daughter of Najam Sethi, a Geo employee and SAFMA member) has labeled the Pakistani military as the greatest obstacle to peace and development. All these voices say the same thing; in order for America to succeed the Pakistani military must be broken.
Perhaps what we are seeing is a convergence of global, corporate and personal interests morphing into a self sustaining crusade. Militaries have been known to survive periods of intense isolation but deprived of their bedrock of public support they perish. It seems that some forces have initiated a new and more insidious type of warfare with the aim of dominating Pakistan against their greatest hurdle: the Pakistani Military.