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ISI vs the media

Imtiaz Ahmad / shsMay 28, 2014

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, who accused his country's spy agency, the ISI, of orchestrating an assassination attempt on him, tells DW he still stands by his claims, and won't compromise despite new death threats.

Pakistani TV Journalist Hamid Mir
Image: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Hamid Mir (shown above), a renowned Pakistani TV anchor and journalist, was shot in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on April 19. Both Mir and his brother, a fellow journalist, subsequently accused the Pakistani army's powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and its chief Zaheerul Islam of carrying out the assassination attempt. Mir's employer, Geo TV, which is Pakistan's largest commercial news channel, itself came out and publicly endorsed the journalists' claims.

Mir had been critical of the country's intelligence agencies and military for their alleged role in the kidnappings of thousands of people in the country's western province of Balochistan. As a result, Mir's aides believe the his stance had irked the ISI.

Geo TV now risks going off air as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government has asked the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA) to revoke Geo TV's broadcasting license. A blasphemy case has also now been filed against the station.

Pakistani workers of Religious party (PASBAN) shout slogans during burning the LOGO of a famous TV channel Geo News, in Lahore, Pakistan on May 20,2014 (Photo: by Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press )
Geo TV has formally apologized to the armyImage: picture-alliance/Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press

The situation of journalists has deteriorated since the restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan, reveals Amnesty International in its new report.

In an interview with DW, Mir says he still stands by his claims, and that the ISI is an organization which acts like "a state within the state."

DW: What has the Pakistani government done so far to arrest the people involved in the attack on you?

Hamid Mir: It's been five weeks since I was targeted in Karachi. As far as I know, no one has been arrested yet. In the beginning, we were told by security officials that they were pretty close to capturing the culprits. Later, a senior police official in Karachi told me that for some reason they couldn't arrest them. He didn't say why they were reluctant. My journalist friends told me that the police initially tried to put blame on certain people and file a case against them, but their plan didn't succeed.

Does that mean that those who targeted you are very powerful?

On April 19, when I was shot by gunmen, there was a 'high-alert' situation in Karachi. Former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf was also coming down to the city from Islamabad. I was attacked near the city airport, and that's an area which is normally very secure. But that day, there was neither a paramilitary troop nor any traffic police at the site. The armed men chased my car for quite some time, and I received the last bullet near the Aga Khan hospital, which is at least eight to nine kilometers from the airport. So this makes things quite fishy. A judicial commission set up to investigate the incident has asked the police to come up with satisfactory answers. I have expressed my reservations against the investigation teams. There are some influential people who are trying to protect those who wanted to murder me, and that is the reason why they are not behind the bars yet.

Your brother accused the ISI of carrying out the assassination attempt. Do you also endorse this view?

Prior to the attack, I had told the Geo TV's administration in writing that some people in the ISI were unhappy with my shows about the missing people in Balochistan and Musharraf's trial. I had also told them that the ISI chief, Zaheerul Islam, too, was uspet, and that in case someone tried to kill me, the ISI should be held responsible. I still stand by this. I have been waiting for someone from the ISI to come to me and deny the accusation. No one has approached me so far.

Geo TV is now trying to compromise with the ISI. How do you view this development?

Geo TV has only apologized for the coverage of the incident. When the channel was showing footage of the attack, I was lying unconscious in the hospital. I had nothing to do with any of it. This is between Geo TV and the army. I need justice, my stance on the issue is the same as it was five weeks ago. I had told my organization that the ISI was a state within the state. There was immense pressure on Geo TV to back down. Banned Islamist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba were holding rallies against the station. I don't know whether Geo TV's apology has been accepted [by the military] or not, I only know that I was shot six times and I am still bedridden and justice hasn't been served.

Pakistan's ISI chief, Zaheerul Islam (Photo:Shakil Adil/AP/dapd)
Mir: "ISI and its chief were unahppy with my reporting"Image: AP

Will you now continue to be as critical in your shows and writings about the role of Pakistan's security agencies in alleged kidnappings of activists in Balochistan?

I have published three columns since the attack; my viewpoint hasn't changed. It won't.

Are you still receiving death threats?

After the attack, many people told me to leave Pakistan and get medical treatment from a foreign country. I decided to stay in the country. Then, I was told that I could be targeted inside the hospital. I received more death threats after I was released from the hospital. Those who tried to kill me are cowards. I am not afraid. Look, here I am talking to DW from Pakistan and I have not budged an inch.

The interview was conducted by Imtiaz Ahmad.