Face-off with ISI

April 28, 2014 - 1:11:04 am

The attack on Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir has resulted in a chastising of the once powerful spy agency.

Those who wanted to silence the media in Pakistan with the brazen murder attempt on Hamid Mir, a star anchor on Geo News, the channel that pioneered tabloid television news in the country, have achieved exactly the opposite: a strengthening and emboldening of the media. Such has been the collective anger unleashed that the perpetrators of the heinous attack on Mir had all their calculations wrong. Mir is one of the most famous journalists in Pakistan, whose incisive and bold analyses had won him huge audiences and some powerful enemies. The attack on him wasn’t unexpected. He had spoken about it, named the people who would be behind it when it happens, and when it finally happened, there was a sense of déjà vu. 

According to reports coming from Pakistan, something more interesting and momentous is happening. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the alleged perpetrators of the attack on Mir, is at the receiving end of a media backlash. Such reprisals could sound normal in other countries, but not in Pakistan. For decades, ISI has been a spy agency that could not be publicly criticised and named for its omissions and excesses. That taboo has been broken. 

For the past week, the Independent Media Corporation, Pakistan’s largest media group, has used the two biggest newspapers in the country and by far its most popular television network to daily hammer the ISI, threatening to further sour the already tense relations between the army and the government. There has been non-stop coverage of the attempt to kill Mir and the claims by his brother that the attack on his car had been directly ordered by the ISI’s chief Zaheer-ul-Islam. Mir had said that the spy agency was infuriated by his programmes that criticised its tactics against separatists in Balochistan province.

There are enough theories doing the rounds about the attackers of Mir, with some pointing fingers at professional rivalry. Even if Mir is sure about the sponsors of his attackers, what’s needed is an independent enquiry by the government to establish the facts.  It’s the duty of the government to get to the root of the conspiracy and name the perpetrators. If that doesn’t happen, the public and the media will be justified in drawing their own conclusions about the incident. 

There is no doubt that the ISI has suffered seriously after the shooting of Mir. The concerted attack by the media indicates a weakening of the power of the spy agency. The media, the judiciary and politicians have been assertive in the recent past against a once unassailable military. That’s a good sign because it’s for the first time that the country witnesses unity on a sensitive issue. And the biggest beneficiary of this standoff will be democracy in the country.