Journalism under threat: Jihad, lies and video tape

Published: February 14, 2012

Tough-talking journalist is broken a little by a night of death threats.

ISLAMABAD: 

Saturday afternoons in Islamabad are clinically boring. The industrial/agricultural elite of Parliament has packed off for the weekend and anybody who wears stars is off golfing or playing polo. As even the Twitter feed is slow, the news day is thus a stretch. Meanwhile, news TV viewing, even the rerun of one’s own show, is a painful but relevant exercise, especially when it is compounded by threats that promise beheading, bestiality, torture and other such comforts of wrath.

According to the records, I got the first call at 1312 hours on Saturday, a few minutes into the repeat broadcast of my new show. It needs to be stated for the record that the show was a passionate debate between that old warhorse, Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul, and myself. Though ‘Saddam Gul’, as Robert Oakley once called him, and I have faced off several times on television, this encounter was less about him and more about his new gig with the good folks of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council.

I started off fairly quickly, teasing Gul why he and his DPC buddies were so angry all the time. Gul just laughed it off. Then we got cracking about the DPC’s ‘pressure group’ tactics, and how they had nothing constructive to contribute to the critical governance issues the country is being held hostage by. Still, that toughened spy chief brushed it aside. Then came the issue of the ‘outlaw groups’, and how the Malik Ishaqs and the Hafiz Saeeds of the world are displayed and paraded around at the DPC’s rallies, and how such displays cause jitters everywhere, and how those jitters end up giving this poor, broken country a bad name.

For the first time in the interview, around 10 minutes in, Gul struggled, outright rejecting the claim that Malik Ishaq was at the Multan rally. As we tend to do in our show, evidence was promptly presented. A screen shot of The Express Tribune, with Ishaq in living colour at the Multan stage, was displayed on our monitor, and Gul struggled some more. Doing what he does best, Gul upped the ante, claiming that the Tribune’s pics were doctored. I challenged him, defending the Tribune’s reporting standards. He counter-challenged, and said it was not the paper, rather the reporter who was lying. I rebutted, and hence we moved on. Around this part of the show’s broadcast, the call came.

He didn’t say hello. He knew my name and my address. He kept it short, and told me exactly what he would do to my body parts when he was done detaching them. He then hung up. That was caller one.

But that was just the bad cop routine. The good cops, several of them, came knocking with a flurry of text messages. One of them started off by asking why I was siding with India. My reply was that I was not siding with any collective, and in fact had brought up the disturbing statistic of India’s arms expenditures with Gul, asking the former ISI chief what he and the DPC were doing besides screaming murder about matching the $100 billion dollars that the Indians plan on weapons procurement spending over the next decade. He pinged back after a few minutes, concentrating his grammar on the imaginings between my mother and some animals. The other good cops started in similar vein, one of them asking me whether I had learnt my English in America. Seeing where this could lead to, I didn’t respond. That action further lit up my afternoon, as references to pre-Islamic debauchery, disasters and disease continued to flash on my phone. No names were offered, but when my address and location was confirmed, again and again, I pressed the panic button.

The cavalry that came to help was the Aaj TV administration as well as contacts in Pakistan’s premier intelligence agencies. Within an hour, we had located the origin of the calls: All of them were from Lahore. And yes, we even had the addresses down. By now, panic had given way to anger. Evidently, this was a planned and coordinated assault, ranging between Badian, Rajababad and Model Town.

I reached out to Gen Gul, and after several hours, he finally reverted, admitting that he too had heard from “some people” who were “angry” at him about granting me this interview. He said all was well between us, and that he was sorry about what had happened. He said he didn’t know who was threatening me, but nor could he help call them off.

Meanwhile, contacts in the intelligence community had another explanation: they said that people belonging to “such organizations” are “excessively emotional”, and that the real operators “never warn” before they strike. Still, the fact that my address and numbers were so quickly available to my would-be executioners wasn’t taken as a “credible threat”. You’re a famous man, I was told. Everybody knows your information. Don’t worry. All will be well.

And that’s when it all made sense. Pakistan is Chaos Country. Nobody is in charge any more. In the battles for our soul – for freedom, for journalism, for jihad, for governance and law – all the combatants are right, and everybody else wrong. The intel officials and my television bosses thought it would be better to know more and do less, for giving the relevant groups’ actions public coverage would only serve their purpose. But when I was advised to “move for the night” and asked if I could “handle a weapon” by some very important, powerful people, I realised that in spirit, maybe the DPC’s message, if not the DPC’s (or its supporters’) tactics is right: We should do what it takes to survive.

At a primal, human level, I secretly wished that I hadn’t “made enemies” by taking on Gen Gul. At a professional level, I was pleased and even proud. Personally, I was scared and then angry. But as a Pakistani, I broke down a little this weekend. And all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, despite their power and potential, couldn’t put my family and me together again. Truth led to lies. Lies led to video-tape. Video-tape led to jihad. And then nobody, even the jihadis themselves, could do anything more to help.

The writer is host of the show Ikhtilaf, on Aaj TV.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.

Reader Comments (40)

  • hammad
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:13AM

    Bravo. Standing up for the truth is the best jihad. I love your show.

    Recommend

  • waqqas iftikhar
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:53AM

    keep safe man…..this is quite frankly ludicrous.

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  • John B
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:54AM

    The culprits should be brought out in day light. Will it make their handlers angry, yes. But so is keeping quiet and they will get embolden with their tactics. Fear, intimidation, mass disruption of civilian doing are the tactics, whether it is in PAK or outside. The threat is beyond journalism.

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  • Hafeez
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:35AM

    May Allah be your protector. Pakistan is turning into a strange country, where getting death threats means that you have hit the right spot. Good forces are weak and evil is getting stronger. My prayers are with you.

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  • Baqar
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:57AM

    pen vs the sword…. its people like you who give us hope in this extremist chaos

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  • Dr Khan
    Feb 14, 2012 - 10:38AM

    From your entire piece, one line is still ringing in my head…”WHOS IN CHARGE?” People are disappearing, vanishing into thin air, day in and day out, only to be found in torture cells years later, or sometimes just their remains! People are being looted left right and center, prices are reaching the skies, who do we complain? WHOS IN CHARGE?
    Allah is the ultimate disposer of affairs, and to him we complain, and to him we ask for mercy and guidance.

    Recommend

  • Reasoner
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:56AM

    Brovo Sir !
    Wish we had more anchors/journalists like you !

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  • PakArmySoldier
    Feb 14, 2012 - 12:11PM

    Great! I’ll fight these “jihadis” till my blood runs dry. These mullahs are an existential threat to the state of Pakistan.

    -Capt. Basit, Baloch Regiment, Pak Army.

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  • wonderer
    Feb 14, 2012 - 1:32PM

    Ask Supreme Court to take notice. I am sure something positive will come out of it.

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  • Zeeshan
    Feb 14, 2012 - 1:47PM

    Fantastic piece. I pray for your safety, but more for the lunatics that thirst for your blood.

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  • Usman
    Feb 14, 2012 - 3:03PM

    This little warning had ISI written all over it. Isnt it obvious they are threatening India with terror groups again. But this time the world will not accept the use of terror as a weapon so readily. This is going to backfire spectacularily as always.
    I hope I live to see the day when these butchers are brought to justice.

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  • Indian muslim
    Feb 14, 2012 - 3:49PM

    Wajahat sahab… may allah save you… And You are a muslim… but these mullah in pakistan have made your country inhospitable.. Dife-e-pak council should be banned by Pak Govt. But Unfortunately many so called great leaders have sent their representative and majority of pakistani support them.. This is a worrying sign… But I will request you to be safe..

    I have watched you on Indian News channel “Times Now”… You must be doing fine.. All the best.

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  • Feb 14, 2012 - 5:19PM

    Love you Wajahat Sahab; I have stopped watching TV Talk Shows, but I think I will have to switch it on again to see Ikhtilaf.

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  • ALi
    Feb 14, 2012 - 6:05PM

    Hatts off to U Wajahat , & Thank God some one dared to tackle saddam gul Recommend

  • Mujtaba
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:05PM

    @Indian muslim:

    Why are you concerned about us?We Pkaistanis can Inshallah look after ourselves.

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  • Roflcopter
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:18PM

    Hamid Gul is awesome

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  • Roflcopter
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:42PM

    Hamid Gul is one of few people who is willing to face all kinds of questions Recommend

  • Feb 14, 2012 - 8:10PM

    @Mujtaba:
    No, we can’t. The result is in front of you. It is very kind of this person to be concerned about us.Recommend

  • Raj - USA
    Feb 14, 2012 - 8:20PM

    When Hamid Mir visited UK and was invited to a gathering of overseas Pakistanis, he made a chilling statement. He said those residing abroad do not have the faintest idea of the pressures and threats that journalists and reporters in Pakistan have to face every day. That was during Musharaff’s time, when the media was touted independent and a powerful force. It is a tough job to be an objective reporter in Pakistan. You go out every day, not knowing if you shall come back. Every meal you eat, you think that it could be your last. DeP has issued open threats in the Karachi Rally that they shall make the rally ground the burial ground of the journalists and reporters if DeP is not given good coverage. All hate organizations start by spreading hatred outside and very quickly the hatred starts spreading within.

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  • aaa
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:26PM

    @Indian Muslim

    Pakistani media is way more vibrant than your insipid Indian media which touts the government line and is scared to report about anything that might go against the government’s narrative.

    Recommend

  • s shah
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:29PM

    @ author : good and brave article. thank you. May Allah keep you in His Protection. Ameen. @mujtaba: why are you being discourteous when someone is expressing concern.

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  • IZ
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:33PM

    Best wishes to you and your family. The fact you hit a nerve shows you confronted these with the unpalatable truth. That’s the kind of gutsy truth-telling that’ll drag this country out of the mess its in. What I find especially ironic is that these demagogues dare to question your patriotism and integrity. What sad, people they are.Recommend

  • Babloo
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:39PM

    With admirable and rare exceptions like Tribune and Friday times, the overwhelming part of Pak news media, has contributed to the spread of establishment lies , intolerance and religious fundamentalism and a totally distorted, fabricated version of history in Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Osama Siddique
    Feb 15, 2012 - 3:00AM

    Excellent Wajahat. Bravo on your courage and conviction. Please keep up the good work. Now that some very brave journalists are speaking out about the intimidation and threats that they are facing this issue has to be kept alive and the pressure built. Or else it is going to be DPC all the way

    Recommend

  • Concerned
    Feb 15, 2012 - 3:08AM

    Wajahat you’re an amazing honorable journalist. But these threats are violent. Do not take them lightly. We worry for your safety. If Hameed Gul is saying he cant take care of your callers then who will. In this country the army talks, and if its not talking that means they are hiding something. You are a rare exception in this journalist community please take care.

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  • Pak143
    Feb 15, 2012 - 3:11AM

    Hats off to your brother – keep fighting the good fight, inshaAllah we will destroy these extremists and wipe em clean off the Pakistani landscape

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  • Ateek
    Feb 15, 2012 - 3:14AM

    Very sad, be safe.

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  • Feb 15, 2012 - 5:16AM

    You are incredibly brave, Mr. Khan. Unfortunately, the threats that you received have been received by far too many journalists in Pakistan. Some persistent critics of the establishment have had to leave the country. Others such as Saleem Shahzad have been killed. Pakistan topped the list of the most dangerous countries for journalists by Reporters Without Borders. In this atmosphere of fear, it has become impossible to reliably report the truth about the ties between our security establishment and the extremist groups. It will be impossible for Pakistan to make progress economically or in standards of living as long as threat of violence remains pervasive in our society.

    Recommend

  • Ali Syed
    Feb 15, 2012 - 3:30PM

    Wajahat,

    Incredibly brave of you.

    Live long and prosper.

    Recommend

  • zaain
    Feb 16, 2012 - 1:08AM

    Dear Wajahat,
    I saw your interview with Gen Gull. Can you do similar kind of interview with Altaf Hussain self exiled leader of MQM? If you yes we are waiting for your next episode Sir.

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  • Irfan Husain
    Feb 16, 2012 - 10:43AM

    Very brave piece of journalism.

    Recommend

  • Taimoor
    Feb 17, 2012 - 2:40AM

    How can you be certain that the calls were origination from agents of the ‘premier’ agency?

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  • Uza Syed
    Feb 17, 2012 - 4:21AM

    Horrible, horrible, simply horrible! and what are we going to do about it—what are we cowards hiding behind that veil of so called ‘silent majority’ ? Silence is not and can just not be an option anymore. Speak up and be counted—-now——before it’s too late.

    Recommend

  • hammad
    Feb 17, 2012 - 5:58AM

    @Taimoor:
    The author said he was not sure. But who’s incharge? Who can stop this? Who will investigate them? That’s what he demands to know.

    Recommend

  • sars
    Feb 17, 2012 - 10:53AM

    Please stay safe and be careful

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  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Feb 18, 2012 - 11:48PM

    This is the primary reason that I don’t host the TV shows.

    Scared from the illogical debate which has no footing but such people believe in shooting.

    Recommend

  • Selvam
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:36AM

    Migrate to India, if they are willing to let you in. You are safer in India.

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  • SSS
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:45PM

    Gen Hameed Gul is a great man.

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  • Mentor
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:46PM

    Gen Gul is a truthful person.

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  • ZAIN
    Feb 21, 2012 - 1:46AM

    OK Here’s a little challenge, Hafiz Saeed is a renowned terrorist in the books of India, later acclaimed by US, but what I’ve known and heard on hafiz saeed is the fact that, THAT GUY IS WILLING TO PRESENT HIM BEFORE COURTS ANYWHERE IN PART OF THE WORLD BUT NOT IN PAKISTAN/INDIA which obviously says it all that he does not trust neither expects any sort of impartiality to be observed by subcontinental courts, so how about asking India to hire one of their best criminal lawyers and we’ll have someone from here and raise the issue in European courts of HR starsberg, lets for once and for all end this Hafiz saeed topic

    But make sure SHIV SENA is not exonerated to be part of this trial

    I just fail to understand your logic behind subjecting ANYONE with a beard with terrorist organizations, What is it that you want to prove here? ARE ALL bearded men terrorists? or are all PAKISTANI bearded men terrorists? Hafiz Saeed has been diligently working for the rights of kashmiris which our lunatic seculars forget to halo, will talk about Palestine/Balochistan but not on the atrocities of Kashmiris, not on their role in Balochistan (BLA) not on their SHIV SENA not on their hate campaign which they persistently continue to hurl at us no matter how deep we swallow it, but nothing against their hate campaign – rather SAFMA & Aman ki asha are reverberated in such a way as if all the solutions of our problems are encompassed by these two anathemic fizzles

    Moral of the story: I challenge WAJAHAT to invite HAFIZ saeed in his SHOW and Barkha dutt from India – LET THE JUSTICE BE SERVED! MR.WAJAHAT

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