After the shameless attack on our senior colleague Hamid Mir last Sunday, the entire narrative on the media is now about Mir’s employer versus the ISI, the spy agency that Mir had suspected would attack him long before the attack happened. The usual suspects that are normally made to come forward whenever spy agencies or its parent institution is in need, have quickly jumped in to safeguard the honor of country’s most sacred institution. Seems like the customary male euphoria to preserve and protect the purity of a helpless and fragile maiden.
The unfortunate assassination attempt on one of the most brilliant journalists of Pakistan is problematic at many levels. Even more so, the post-attack treatment of the tragedy by media and opinion makers is troublesome at best and soaked in lethal corporate spitefulness, vindictiveness and callousness at its worst. Nothing can be more damaging to the health of civilized social discourse than dehumanizing human blood.
All kinds of conspiracy theories ranging from ‘the attack is a drama’ to ‘he got it on himself with an agenda’ to ‘it was a choreographed attack to malign country’s defense institutions’ were seen afloat on prime time TV talk shows as well as on spreadsheet media. As a citizen of this fateful country, one wanted a serious and meaningful defense of these institutions by themselves rather than being happily treated like a Virgin Mary hiding behind red-capped defenders.
Hamid’s crimes have been many. His penchant to speak his mind and standing up for whatever he believes in was his biggest crime, like that of my friend Raza Rumi who was attacked less than a month ago. Hamid’s interpretation of ‘truth’ and ‘right’ might be subjective as the case is with any of us. Our causes are defined by the ideology we believe in. I had always taken Hamid as a journalist true to himself having an ideology that might be contrasting at many points with mine. Surprisingly enough, over the last few years, he has been defeating these points I used to mistake as ‘contrasting’. Both of us saw many convergence points very often.
Hamid’s narrative and approach to citizen-state relationship was different than most of us ‘liberal fascists’. He might not have been advocating a secular state, but his ideals for a democratic, progressive society matched ours at many points. The causes he had picked up over the years included highlighting the issues of missing persons, strongly putting the case for a balanced civil-military relations with a slight tilt towards universally recognized pro-democracy and pro-civilian arguments, his position on military dictatorships especially on the current trial of the recent dictator Pervez Musharraf inter alia. You could differ with him but no one has a right to make an attempt on his life nor could one justify such violent behavior for this difference of opinion.
Looking at the list of issues he has been taking up, it is not rocket science as to who would be itched most by Hamid’s causes. The fact that he has been sharing with his family, friends and colleagues, the information about the way he was being threatened by some moles, cannot be discounted and brushed away just because those moles belong to an institution that wants to retain its ‘respect’ and has guns at its disposal. The boys need to understand one fact, that respect is earned not imposed.
The moment Hamid’s brother came on media and informed the nation about who has been threatening Hamid, pandemonium was unleashed on his media house. The group had to repeatedly reiterate that it was not against any institution of the country. The media has been viciously saying things against elected institutions of this country but never had one seen the legislative retorting so unabashedly. That, gentlemen, undermines the very honor and ‘waqaar’ you are so fond of reasserting and defending.
No one, nevertheless, could be sure of who sent the assassins unless there is an impartial investigation.
If there is a way to protect the honor of sacred institutions, it is their unconditional support for a transparent and speedy investigation of this crime. Officials from spy agencies have been found threatening journalists and other naysayers in past too. A couple of years ago, veteran human rights defender of Pakistan and former President of Supreme Court Bar Council, Ms. Asma Jehangir was threatened, as was Imtiaz Alam of SAFMA. The latter took the matter to the spymaster leadership and the culprit was even removed. The case of Saleem Shehzad is not that distant in the past yet. What happened to Hamid’s colleague Umar Cheema is also not a hidden secret. Why is this case, then, being taken as a virginity test of the spy agency?
The military leadership would come out as a great defender of the honor and dignity of its institution if it announces full and unconditional support for an objective investigation into the matter, surrender the accused if s/he is from the premium spy agency and cooperate in punishing the culprit if the crime is proved. It would only escalate the pedestal of armed forces in people’s eyes, who have unfortunately started seeing their own armed forces as a manipulator. No country, let alone a conflict-ridden state like Pakistan that is inflicted with myriad external challenges of geo-political nature, can afford such a problematic relationship between people and defense institutions.
It is most amusing when the treasonous acts of military dictators and electoral manipulations of people’s mandate by officials of spy agencies are termed as ‘individual’ acts rather than institutional. But when it comes to such accusations as the agencies are facing in the wake of the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir, it is considered to be an attack on the institution.
The penholders, who do nothing but their job of keeping the masses informed are not the enemy, the ones who play with institutions’ repute by undertaking such criminal activities are the enemies. The military establishment must pick and choose its enemies. Not a long time ago, a leader of one politico-religious party that has been the hot favorite of the establishment, cast serious aspersions on the armed forces and our brave soldiers fighting at the borders and giving their lives by calling them ‘stooges of USA’. He went on to undermine the sacrifices of our soldiers by saying that they are not martyrs – shaheeds – when they die in the line of their duty.
One did not see any such ruckus among the rank and file after this vicious attack on the morale of our soldiers. There was no angry representation of ISPR on TV talk shows and not a single castigating word on such irresponsible attitude. The honor of institutions can’t be preserved on personal likes and dislikes for sure. The new military leadership that has brought an air of hope with it, must cater to these challenges with care, sagacity and commitment to democratic ideals the Father of the Nation, the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah laid down for us.
Finally, Hamid Mir, his family and his organization deserve our unflinching support for the right, for the justice and for the protection of the rights of citizen journalists. With all my difference of opinion, which has shrunken to very little over the years, I have no doubt in my mind that Hamid is a brave journalist committed to his work in the most honest way and loves his country, may be much more than those attacking his organization for challenging the mightiest of the mighty. Today I went to the hospital and saw him but could not gather the courage to see the ever smiling energetic strong Hamid lying on hospital bed with all those horrible looking tubes and needles piercing his body. Hamid, I do want to see you back on your program at the earliest. Come soon and let’s debate on issues we differ. We, the civilians, must continue demonstrating our ability to differ with civility and dignity. That’s our revenge.
May you live long, jio Hamid Mir!
The writer is an Islamabad based campaigner for human rights and works on parliamentary strengthening and democratic governance.