Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) was a pastor and he was so appalled by the German concentration camps that he said that till the German intellectuals did not speak up as the Nazis started arresting groups of people: socialists, trade unionists, Jews, etc, nobody was safe. Is this what we are witnessing in Pakistan today? I do not need to marshal impressive statistical figures of journalists threatened, abused, abducted, tortured, injured and killed in the line of duty all over the world. Everybody who has anything to do with the media knows about them. In simple words, Pakistan’s best media persons are being threatened and shot with alarming frequency. Within a month we heard of Raza Rumi and then Hamid Mir being fired upon. The former escaped but the latter is in hospital battling his injuries. The discussion should have been about providing safety to our media, about protecting vulnerable journalists, about creating an office dealing with threats to media people; about tracing out the sources of the threats. But look what has happened. The discussion is all about the criminality of blaming the ISI; about the transgressions of Hamid Mir himself and so on. The conspiracy theories are the most bizarre of all — that Mir did it himself to let down the ISI; that someone wanted to distract the public from the Musharraf case; that the ‘third hand’ (which is left undefined) did it to create chaos and ‘destabilise’ Pakistan. I remember that exactly the same thing happened when Malala was shot at. First there was a cacophony of outrage. Then the tables turned and we heard that Malala had got herself shot to malign the Taliban or Pakistan. And now Malala is highly controversial and many people still call her encounter a drama and a conspiracy. So, once again, we are talking about the wrong things while one of our bravest journalists lies combating his injuries.
How did the debate go all wrong? Well, because Hamid’s brother Amir Mir — himself a journalist whose many books about the spread of militancy in Pakistan should be compulsory reading for all — said that his brother had named the ISI and its head as suspects if anything happened to him. Such suspicions are normally expressed by the victims or their families on the basis of previous experience such as the pattern or type of threat. They may well be incorrect and the law does not consider the people named as guilty till there is evidence to prove them so. Sometimes, the high and mighty are also named. Famously, the prime minister, Mr ZA Bhutto, was named in the murder of Ahmad Raza Kasuri and the FIR was dug out later to hang the former when he was out of power. More recently, Benazir Bhutto named the sitting president of Pakistan, General Musharraf, as well as the Taliban. So, if Amir Mir repeated what his brother had told him it was something which has precedents. That the Geo Channel showed it on TV was also something which has happened before. However, I would agree that the picture of the head of the ISI need not have been shown for such a long time. I also agree that the whole thing need not be repeated ad nauseam nor made into a media trial. This was done by someone in the channel and, of course, Hamid Mir was unconscious at that time. However, all channels, in most parts of the world, do repeat visuals over and over again. They also carry out what amounts to a media trial and this is something which does need to be changed by a responsible code of fair conduct.
While nobody can be sure who shot Hamid Mir; on the basis of our past history, I am sure that nobody will ever know for sure. Moreover, intelligence agencies, set up to protect people, are blamed for misdeeds all over the world. This is either because their perception of national interest is too chauvinistic or distorted or because they have rogue elements. John Stockwell, once a star of the CIA, wrote about the crimes of the agency in his book The Secret Wars of the CIA. The MI6 is said to have killed Princess Diana because she was going to marry a Muslim (Dodi). The British yellow press defamed the intelligence and did not even spare the royal family. Savak, Mossad, KGB — you name it! All intelligence agencies have had stories told about them. Ideally speaking, this is incorrect as these agencies are blamed without solid proof. I am not saying this is ideal but I am saying this is normal. Even in Pakistan, senior military officers have told us about the rigging they carried out in the elections. Moreover, Generals Pasha and Musharraf talked about the possibility of there being rogue agents in the ISI. Our interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar, used to blame the ISI for supporting Imran Khan against the other political parties. These allegations were all offered without proof so this is not the first time a suspicion was expressed without proof.
The gist of the matter is that if all journalists do not unite now to save the freedom of the press, to save media personnel, to save democratic rights we will slide towards a reign of terror. If the civil society does not take the side of the victims we will repeat what Niemoller said:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me!”
So, we should defend the media and the media persons to leave somebody to speak out for us.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2014.