The attack on Hamid Mir and its aftermath.
Propagandists in Pakistan move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform. Those who once exercised creative license to ascribe any and all acts of terror in Pakistan to India’s external intelligence agency R&AW are now being labeled agents of that same agency. Hamid Mir, senior journalist with the GEO Group, was attacked this past Saturday by unidentified persons while on his way to a special broadcast on GEO TV in Karachi. Mr. Mir was shot six times in the abdomen and legs, but miraculously survived the attack.
In the ensuing outrage, Amir Mir, brother to Hamid and a journalist of repute himself, accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack on his brother. GEO TV, as part of its coverage of the attack, broadcast a photograph of DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, while Ansar Abbasi, investigative editor of the Jang Group’s English-language newspaper The News, demanded his resignation.
Big mistake. One does not simply accuse the DG ISI on national television and get away with it. The ISI dismissed the allegations as “baseless” (as all allegations usually are in Pakistan). Pakistan’s Defense Ministry, in its complaint against GEO TV, accuses it of bringing the ISI into disrepute and demands that Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cancel GEO TV’s license to broadcast.
With the PEMRA verdict still pending, GEO TV took to Twitter yesterday, indicating that its channel had been blocked by a few cable operators. This may of course be true, but some of us may be forgiven if we suspect this to be a reenactment of the last time GEO TV claimed to have been taken off air. In that particular instance, a GEO official privately confirmed that they had “taken themselves off the air in order to blame [a] political party, and garner support for the station.”
GEO TV and Mr. Mir are now under attack from many quarters. Rival media houses are in an all-out war. Many of them are unable to appreciate the fact that the price one now pays for defying the Deep State is no longer censorship, it is death. And it wouldn’t matter if it were GEO, Express or Dawn. The rules of the game have changed.
Of course, propaganda theories of Indian involvement are never very far when hell breaks loose in Pakistan, which is always. The Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rasheed, who was “detained” in the U.S. in 2012 for his links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed, opined that the attack on Hamid Mir benefited India, which was looking to malign the Pakistani Army and ISI. Hafiz Saeed also took to Twitter to level vague and uncreative accusations at India and the U.S.
Mr. Mir himself had been particularly distressed in the recent past at being labelled an “Indian agent.” But how things change. It wasn’t too long ago that Mr. Mir did the bidding of higher powers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad before he managed to find his liberal conscience (though possibly not his “liberal fascist” conscience).
Indeed, he was for the ISI before he was against it. After all, not every journalist in Pakistan gets to interview Osama bin Laden. And that too not once, but on three occasions. But the nature of that relationship changed in 2010 when a tape surfaced of Mr. Mir allegedly conversing with the TTP’s Usman Punjabi, in which he relayed false information that may have contributed to the death of ISI official Khalid Khawaja. The recorded conversation, still available online, also has Mr. Mir talking disparagingly about Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmedis. Quite the liberal indeed.
So where does this all end? It is hard to see how PEMRA could fly in the face of the ISI’s demands and recommend anything other than revoking GEO’s license. But in time, the brouhaha will be forgotten. Ansar Abbasi and the GEO crew will probably show up somewhere, somehow on some national TV show in which they will proceed to eulogize the Pakistani army, thereby underscoring their hubb ul-watan (patriotic) credentials. Couple this with private undertakings to comply with the red lines now drawn and order will be restored. Licenses will be reinstated, and talk show hosts and their guests will be yelling at each other, competing for the soundbite of the day on GEO TV soon enough.