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Enough of a bizarre affair

May 01, 2014

Email

THE bizarre happenings subsequent to the murderous attack on Hamid Mir are now violating all canons of good sense and decency and their cessation must not be delayed.

The only material fact established so far is that Hamid Mir’s car was ambushed in Karachi by some armed men who fired several rounds from their sophisticated weapons and he was critically injured. Not only the media but all others too saw the event in the context of the killing of media persons over the past few years. These killings have earned the country the unenviable distinction of being one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.

The media community is justified in demanding not only the arrest of the culprits but also guarantees of maximum possible security and protection for journalists, especially those who uphold their ideal of calling a spade a spade. As a judicial commission is already seized of this aspect of the matter, nothing more needs to be said about it. However, it must be clearly understood that attempts to pigeonhole the report of the commission in the manner the findings of similar commissions have been shelved will be extremely dangerous.

There was nothing unusual about Hamid Mir’s decision to let his family and friends know about the source of threats he had received. If the state can be accused of offences against citizens none of its institutions or services can enjoy exemption. But by an incredible error of judgement Mir’s employers chose to flash the complaint against the ISI and its chief for a long time. This demonstration of adventurism needs to be understood.

There was a time when journalists were warned regarding the reporting of accusations given in FIRs. Since there was no certainty of these accusations being proved in a court the publication of allegations could amount to libel. Similarly, the media was advised against reporting the contents of writ petitions in superior courts before they were admitted for hearing.

Over the past few years these precautions have been forgotten, particularly during the seasons of organised demonisation of political leaders and their parties. Some state institutions encouraged media trials of their quarries and if they today find themselves at the receiving end they should concentrate on self-correction. As for the media it has to stop playing any party’s hatchet man.

The ISI had a legitimate grievance against the apparent malignity. But two points need to be kept in mind. First, an irregularity in the FIR does not affect the seriousness of the offence complained of, and the attempt on Hamid Mir’s life cannot be hushed up.

Secondly, the ISI demand for redress cannot be out of proportion to the offence caused. The call to close down Geo TV is unreasonable and ridiculous. Any move in that direction will be a grave attack on not only the freedom of the media but also on the people’s right to know and to be served by an honest, truthful and courageous media. Efforts to block access to Geo by pressurising the cable operators, of which the present writer became a victim on Tuesday morning, have no place in a civilised society.

The hullabaloo going on for days on end has baffled the citizens no end. They may not find it possible to offer 100pc unqualified support to either side. Processions are being taken out and all kind of mavericks are jumping to the defence of the armed forces. The people are aware of the services of the armed forces but they too are not above public accountability. Respect for the armed forces does not mean condoning their foray into politics. Likewise, the ISI cannot be installed on a pedestal of infallibility, especially in view of its actions, such as the creation of IJI in 1988, and the manipulation of elections in 1990 and the Supreme Court strictures in cases of disappearance.

The country’s fundamental interest will suffer heavily if street agitation in support of the ISI results in back-pedalling of the demand for making its organisation and activities subject to the law. This is not the demand of some rags in the pay of foreign enemies of Pakistan (and the failure of intelligence agencies to expose them earlier cannot be justified), it is a demand made by the three-judge commission of 2010 and the judicial commission that probed Saleem Shahzad’s liquidation.

The ugly war between media barons is bringing no credit to anyone of them. Instead, it is doing the national media a lot of harm because it shows that some of the media houses have piles of dirty linen that they are careless enough to wash in public. Further, those joining the battle on either side are proving that they value their narrow interests more than the hallowed traditions of their calling. The media used to advise the political parties against fighting amongst themselves for securing the patronage of a third party. Now they themselves need to act on this advice.

The unsavoury affair has continued much longer than it should have. It is consuming the energies of several organisations, and diverting attention from numerous other challenges. Let the law take its course on all justiciable issues thrown up in the aftermath of the attack on the TV talk show host. The prime minister appears to be the only person who could persuade the combatants to agree to a truce and save their gunpowder for battles the people may have to fight together in the years ahead.