A popular Pakistani television talk show host who was attacked by gunmen last week said he had told intelligence officials before the shooting that the nation’s military spy agency was a threat to his life.
Geo television anchor Hamid Mir in his first statement since the April 19 assault said the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, was unhappy over reporting about Balochistan on Mir’s “Capital Talk” show, as well as his criticism of the role of intelligence agencies in the country’s politics. The Defense Ministry is seeking to cancel Geo’s license for broadcasting comments accusing the ISI of the attack on Mir.
Some Pakistani intelligence officials visited Mir before the attack and told him that his name was on a “hit-list” of journalists, Mir said yesterday in an e-mailed statement issued by his employer. “I had told them that in the present circumstances, I fear the biggest threat came from the ISI.”
The comments may escalate the row between the government and the Jang Group, which runs Geo television, said Muhammad Waseem, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
The dispute reflects the dominant role of Pakistan’s army and its spy agency in the nation’s domestic politics as well as key security policies. The army has ruled the country for more than half of its 67-year-old history and has resisted attempts by the past governments to exert control over ISI.
The fight “could get worse, which would not be in the government’s best interest since they have their own problems,” Waseem said by phone. “Geo definitely overplayed initially, but the punishment for that will be decided by” the broadcast regulator, he said.
Asim Saleem Bajwa, the chief military spokesman, didn’t answer five calls to his office and mobile phones today. There was no response to an e-mail sent to Bajwa’s office seeking a response to Mir’s comments. The army has denied the allegations made by Geo.
The Defense Ministry has lodged a complaint with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory, or PEMRA, asking it to take Geo News television off the air after the channel broadcast accusations that officials of the ISI were behind the attack on Mir, a ministry spokeswoman said April 23. PEMRA has asked Geo to respond to the complaint within 14 days or risk a fine or suspension of its broadcast license.
Condemning attempts to block Geo’s transmission, relayed countrywide through cable networks, Mir said that Geo would confront such efforts with the support of the people.
In last week’s incident, a gunman sprayed bullets on Mir’s car after he left the Karachi airport and fled with the help of an accomplice on a motorbike, according to reports broadcast on Geo TV. Mir was struck by six bullets and survived the attack.
Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir, appeared on the channel and said his brother had been under threat from the ISI. A few hours later, the army’s press office issued a statement condemning the shooting, while also criticizing the attack on the ISI “without any evidence.”
Police in November defused an explosive device attached to Mir’s car. A week before that incident, Mir had hosted programs that included reports on deadly attacks against Pakistan’s Shiite minority sect.
Over the last three years, Mir had on two occasions told the government and Amnesty International he believed his life was under threat from different quarters, including the ISI and the Pakistani Taliban, David Griffiths, deputy Asia Pacific director of the London-based organization, said in April 23 statement.
In his latest comments, Mir said the ISI was unhappy with his coverage of protests by people from Balochistan seeking to find answers to the disappearance of people from the province since the army started a crackdown against militants in the province.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has asked ISI officials to produce alleged Islamic militants it had held in detention as part of a case by the families of missing people.
In 2008, a few months after taking office, the government of then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced it had exercised its constitutional authority over the ISI to transfer its oversight to the civilian Interior Ministry, an announcement it retracted within hours.
Pakistan is ranked the fourth-deadliest country for media personnel, according to a 2013 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. As many as 54 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, the organization said.
Saleem Shahzad, a correspondent for the Italian news agency AKI and the Hong Kong-based website Asia Times Online, was found dead in May 2011 after a human rights group said he had reported threats from intelligence officers over his coverage of alleged links between the military and Islamic militant guerrillas.