The Curious Case of Hamid Mir

Hamid Mir is one of the most popular television anchors and journalists in Pakistan, with a key role in the country’s movement for free journalism. He is  the television host for Capital Talk that airs on Geo TV every Monday to Thursday, and a regular columnist for the Urdu newspaper Jang, the largest in the country. A few days ago, I noticed his disappearance from TV and could not find episodes of his show online. The recent ones that I did find were hosted by another person. He also gave a couple of unusually candid interviews over the weekend to little known television anchors, and talked about threats to his life and his encounter with two assassination attempts. In 2012, half a kilogram of explosives were placed in his car, luckily discovered and defused in time. In 2014, he was shot thrice on his way to the office, an attack that Geo TV immediately blamed on the country’s intelligence agencies, flashing the chief’s photo on TV. Since then, Geo and particularly Hamid Mir’s relationship does not seem to have recovered much.

I checked the Jang newspaper only to find that his last column was published weeks ago on November 19. In this Urdu article, titled “Civilian Sharif“, Hamid Mir talks about teaching history without bias; history of politics, history of the struggle for freedom of journalism, history of the political role of intelligence agencies. He concludes with the following statement: “Across Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab, opposition to the establishment is rising among the public and maybe this is why some politicians are saying, for the sake of politics, that if they had to choose between the two Sharifs, they would go for the Civilian Sharif because he is accused of being soft on the Pakistan Peoples Party”.

Today, just as Sushma Swaraj, the Indian Minister for External Affairs, touched down in Islamabad for bilateral talks and a peace conference, Hamid Mir’s twitter account posted something outrageous about her motivation for travel:

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The account seemed to be hacked and the suspicion was vindicated when the account posted something even more shocking:

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The tweet above includes the screenshot of an e-mail written by Hamid Mir on October 27, 2015 expressing concerns about the dormant judicial commission established to investigate his attempted assassination, and his suspicions about ISI’s involvement in the attack on his life:

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He also wrote an e-mail to Shamim Mirza, describing his story in detail and making some startling allegations:

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Firstly, he talks about his experience with journalism: allegedly kidnapped and tortured by ISI in 1990 for unveiling then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s decision to dismiss then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, fired by Benazir’s government in 1994 for breaking the submarine corruption scandal, fired by Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1997 for exposing government corruption, and banned by General Musharraf in 2007. Secondly, he talks about past accusations against him: accused of being a Mossad agent in 1994  after interviewing Israeli Foreign Minister Shamon Peres in Switzerland, an Indian agent in 1995 after interviewing Indian Prime Minister Narsima Rao, and an Al Qaeda agent in 1997 after interviewing Osama Bin Laden.

According to this e-mail, pressure against him really started to mount when he started writing and speaking about the issue of “missing persons” associated with the war against insurgents in Balochistan and even the attack on his life happened only a few days after he had invited a Baloch human rights activist to his TV show. After he interviewed Nawab Akbar Bugti a few days before his killing, the then Director General Military Intelligence General Nadeem Ejaz  had called him over to tell him that they will get Bugti soon and need his cooperation for national interest. Mir refused. The United Nations commission set up to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto allegedly pointed fingers at the same General Nadeem for having the police wash the crime scene within an hour of the incident.

In addition to this, Hamid Mir claims that after the Abbotabad operation against Osama Bin Laden in 2011, Director General Inter Services Intelligence General Shuja Pusha asked for his help in replacing parliamentary democracy with a presidential form of government . Mir told Pasha to “stay out of politics”, after which Pasha became Mir’s “personal enemy”. While he faced threats from the intelligence, he also faced threats from the Taliban for being an open supporter of Malala Yousufzai, among other reasons.

In other e-mails, mostly to Mir Ibrahim, Hamid Mir raises several issues such as editing of parts of his shows and interviews, and the alleged connections between other anchors within the Jang Group (owner of both Jang newspaper and Geo TV), for e.g. Wajahat Khan and Najam Sethi, and the military establishment:

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Strangely enough, a purported copy of a bank transfer of Rs. 1,350,000 into one of Hamid Mir’s accounts dated July 22, 2015 was also posted, but the source and purpose of this amount is not mentioned:

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Given that in 2014, the International Federation of Journalists ranked Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, Hamid Mir’s  disappearance from TV, references to death threats, history of attacks, hacking of his Twitter account and accusations highlighted in these leaked e-mails raise some serious questions. According to one of the e-mails reproduced above, the commission to investigate the attack on his life was supposed to produce an inquiry report within three weeks but there is still no update after at least  17 months and 3 hearings. He claims that he was back on TV after the last assassination attempt, but facing a lot of pressures and that Pakistan is losing its media freedom day by day. He also claims that the media is divided and dominated by pro-establishment forces, and that he is being encouraged to leave the country by his friends and family.

Hamid Mir has deleted these tweets since, but has neither denied nor validated their authenticity. [Updated December 12, 2015] However, he finally broke his silence with the following series of tweets (in order):

1JournalistsDontAttack

6DictatorMusharraf 5WhatWasMyCrime 4StartedReceiving 3TunDictator 2SnakesAlways

His history, recent interviews/columns, sudden ‘leave’ from TV and print, and tweets after the account was recovered, seem quite consistent with the content of the leaked e-mails, but why is he raising the journalistic equivalent of an early martial law alarm? Is he paranoid or is the military establishment after him? Is it just because he writes against the military’s role in politics or is there something else? What is the status of the investigation into the last attack on his life?

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