The attempted assassination of TV anchor and journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi on Saturday, April 19, 2014, is a grim reminder of the dangers facing media persons in Pakistan. Not for nothing has it been dubbed the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Clearly, the schedule and travel plans of Hamid Mir were known to his attackers, given that he had just left the airport on the way to his office and was ambushed en route. His family and employers have been at pains to highlight a written message Hamid Mir had conveyed some time ago that if anything happened to him, the trail led to the ISI and particularly its chief, Lt-General Zaheerul Islam. ISPR has refuted the charge and described it as unfortunate and misleading when there is no proof of the assertion. Condemnation of the attack and calls for a thorough and independent investigation have come tumbling out from all quarters, including the government and military top brass. The latter, in particular, are obviously interested in clearing the name of the ISI. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced a three-member judicial commission will be set up to investigate the incident. He has also announced a reward of Rs 10 million to anyone providing credible information that could help track down the attackers. While these lines are being written, there are also reports of a high level meeting being held by the prime minister to discuss the issue. Meanwhile the Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Menon has promised a thorough inquiry and investigation, but has asked for federal help in the endeavour. This is a reasonable demand since the entrails of whatever conspiracy lies behind the attempted murder of Hamid Mir could be difficult to trace at just a provincial level. Hamid Mir received three bullets, and the presence of mind of his driver allowed him to shake off the pursuing attackers and managed to get him to a hospital in time. Hamid Mir is reportedly recovering in hospital after a successful surgery to remove the bullets. We all wish him a full and speedy recovery. Journalist bodies countrywide have mounted protests against the attack, calling it not just an attack on Hamid Mir but a full, frontal attack on the media and freedom of expression. Everywhere the cry has gone up that such tactics and attacks meant to silence the media will not be allowed to succeed.
Attacks on the media and journalists seem to be intensifying since the start of this year and acquiring a sinister pattern. Earlier attacks on the Express group and particularly its TV anchor Raza Rumi in Lahore, in which he was fortunately relatively unscathed but in which his driver was killed, point to the slate of possible suspects. In Raza Rumi’s case, the gang responsible has recently been rounded up in Lahore and identified as belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned extreme sectarian group. However, given the controversy that has arisen as a result of the revelation of Hamid Mir’s allegations against the ISI, the matter assumes even more important dimensions requiring investigations that get to the bottom of the mystery. It may be recalled that some months ago reports spoke of a hit list of the Taliban that included media house owners, prominent journalists and even the unnamed editor of an English newspaper. Since Raza Rumi’s and Hamid Mir’s names were both reportedly on the hit list, it has by now acquired very sinister and important dimensions. Needless to say, the government and all state authorities not only need to cooperate in the investigation into this latest atrocity against a prominent journalist, the authorities and media houses also need to revisit the risks run by working journalists and chalk out security and other safety measures to safeguard those who strive to bring the truth into the light of day, a seemingly noble endeavour, but not without risk to life and limb from variegated enemies, as the track record of journalists killed, attacked and threatened in Pakistan over the years shows.