— #VBMPLongMarch (@IVBMP) February 22, 2014
Below, text of my interview with Viewpoint Online about the Hamid Mir saga, that began with the murderous attack on one of Pakistan’s top journalists and television talk show hosts, who has angered Pakistan’s ideological security establishment with his stands on 1971, regional peace (including with India), and most recently, Balochistan. Besides speaking openly about the distorted history we are taught about this issue in Pakistan, he even walked in support with the Baloch Long March activists. Also read these excellent analyses: Sahar Habib Ghazi on Pakistani spies, Mir, and the missing people of Balochistan, and Jugnu Mohsin – Rumi and Mir. The character assassination on Hamid Mir now reminds me of the campaigns that followed the attack on Raza Rumi that killed his driver, and even before that, against Malala Yusufzai when she was shot. And this measured speech by Shaheen Qureshi at a recent SAFMA meeting (video, Urdu).
Viewpoint Online: Hamid Mir and the ideological security establishment
‘Hamid Mir, I think, is an ambitious journalist who has made his way through hard work and ability to access all kinds of people, not all of them admittedly very savoury. I don’t find him to be India-phobic and nor do I think he harbours ‘pro-Taliban’ or ‘Jihadist’ ideas. On the contrary, he has hosted shows that have furthered dialogue and understanding with India’ – senior journalist, peace activist and editor ‘Aman ki Asha’, Beena Sarwar in an interview with Viewpoint on various aspects of the assassination attempt on journalist Hamid Mir. Read on:
Do you think it was inappropriate of Geo to run Amir Mir’s statement accusing ISI of plotting Hamid Mir’s murder?
Why inappropriate? Amir Mir is a well known, well reputed investigative journalist. If he has such suspicions, and wanted to voice them, the media have a responsibility to let him do so.
As often is the case, lot of conspiracy theories have gained currency in the cyberspace regarding the attack on Hamid Mir. Even when country’s largest media house is siding with the victim, truth has not been established in a way to decisively counter the conspiracy theories. Why Pakistani media repeatedly fail in the face of conspiracy theories? Is it because sections of media themselves thrive on conspiracy theories?
The conspiracy theories about Hamid Mir remind me of the campaign that was launched to discredit Malala Yusufzai after she was attacked. Jamat-e-Islami in particular started circulating photos trying to establish that Malala was not shot, or that she was in cahoots with America (as if that would justify the attack on her). Sections of Pakistani media often further such conspiracy theories, which I suspect originate from what I call the Dirty Tricks Brigade, that has long been at work to discredit progressive thinking in Pakistan.
Hamid Mir himself has been popularizing discourses and narratives being used against him for a while, but particularly after the assassination attempt. He used to declare everybody he disagreed as traitor [Mir Jaffar, Mir Saqid was his preferred term], a ‘liberal fascist’, a ‘sell out’ etc. He has been an essential part of the Team Media Taliban, popularizing pro-Taliban, Indiaphobic, and Jihadist ideas [an implicit endorsement of ISI agenda]. Don’t you think one should really feel sorry for Goebels if they for some reason earn Nazi wrath?
I have not always agreed politically with Hamid Mir, but I’ve never thought of him as being part of ‘Team Media Taliban’. A Goebel is someone who is hired for propaganda purposes. I don’t think that is the case with Hamid Mir. I think he is an ambitious journalist who has made his way through hard work and ability to access all kinds of people, not all of them admittedly very savoury. I don’t find him to be India-phobic and nor do I think he harbours ‘pro-Taliban’ or ‘Jihadist’ ideas. On the contrary, he has hosted shows that have furthered dialogue and understanding with India – independently of Aman ki Asha (not commissioned by us). Yes, he is politically conservative and super-patriotic about Pakistan, but the reason so many people love to hate him is that despite his political conservatism he doesn’t fall in line with many of the ideas propounded by Pakistan’s ideological security establishment.
There used to be an impression beyond media circles that Hamid Mir was hand in glove with the secret agencies. Don’t you think the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir, if it is indeed an ISI plot, is in fact a case of mafia-style action to punish the ‘traitor’?
No one who is ‘hand in glove’ with Pakistan’s secret agencies would take the kind of stands Hamid Mir has taken on 1971 and Balochistan, running completely counter to the ideological security establishment’s views. I think he, like other journalists, has often relied on ‘sources’ within Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for his reports. But he did so as a journalist, and continued to follow his own independent line of thinking. From what I’ve observed, agencies or organisations with fascist tendencies don’t like independent thinking. They consider journalists who report on their areas, to whom they’ve given access and information, to be their own, even if there was no such agreement. When the journalist steps out of line – in their view, betraying them – they feel justified in taking action. Perhaps Saleem Shehzad fell victim to such thinking; the torture and beating of Umar Cheema may have been part of this phenomenon; and this may also be the case with the attack on Hamid Mir.
This is for the first time a media house has gone in contradiction with country’s most powerful and feared institution. Why has it happened? Is it an expression of military’s slipping control over country’s vital organs? Also, what will be the outcome in your opinion: will Geo surrender or will there be a rapprochement?
This is not the Pakistan it was ten years ago. Most crucially, Pakistan has taken the critical first few steps on the road to a democratic political process which in the long run is the only way that the country can progress and even survive. As part of this process, the military must realise that it is subservient to the elected civilian government, and the elected government must realise that it needs to govern effectively and honestly. There must be accountability of all institutions and individuals. The ISI is no exception. I don’t know what the outcome will be but I believe that the age of secret spy agencies and their manipulations that have their genesis in the Cold War years, is coming to an end. This is the age of openness, of no privacy, of secrets being exposed, and information becoming widely available. Hum dekhenge!