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Pakistani Journalist Caught In The Cross Fire

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir's fearless approach to his work has made him many friends -- and enemies.
Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir's fearless approach to his work has made him many friends -- and enemies.
Hamid Mir earned global fame as the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Since then, Mir's work in his native Pakistan has won him many followers -- and enemies.

As the anchor of Geo TV's current-affairs program "Capital Talk," the 47-year-old Mir has not shied away from controversial stories on Islamic militants, politicians, intelligence officials, and military leaders.

It is little surprise, then, that speculation has been rife about who was behind this the failed assassination attempt against Mir on April 19 -- an attack in which gunmen on motorcycles fired six bullets into the famous journalist's body as he was being driven to Geo TV's main building in Karachi.

Now Geo TV is in hot water for its reports on who may have been behind the attack.

It quoted Mir's brother as saying that the TV anchor had told him before the attack to blame "elements in the ISI" -- Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency-- "and its chief, Lieutenant General Zaheer ul Islam" if anything happened to him.

Geo TV has also broadcast other programs with guests discussing the merits of the allegations.

On April 22, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif filed a formal complaint to Pakistan's broadcasting regulator calling for the revocation of Geo TV's license and the prosecution of Geo TV's journalists and managers.

Filed on behalf of the ISI Directorate, the complaint accuses Geo TV of conducting a "false and scandalous campaign undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image" of the ISI and its officers.

Journalism advocacy groups around the world have been stunned by the move.

Under Constant Threat

Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says the complaint against Geo TV is "spurious" and "harkens back to an earlier date in Pakistan when a free press was always under attack."

Dietz has called for the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority "not to act" on the complaint, saying: "The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage."

In Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has praised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for appointing a commission of three Supreme Court judges to investigate the attack against Mir.

But both RSF and the CPJ say authorities in Islamabad must "take concrete action" on the commission's findings and put those responsible for the attack on trial.

For its part, Geo TV has been broadcasting calls by politicians, analysts, and leading Pakistani journalists for an independent and transparent probe of the ISI's complaint.

Meanwhile, a slew of other Pakistani journalists have been emboldened by Geo TV's coverage to write about past threats against them by Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies.

Rauf Klasra, an investigative journalist for the "Daily Dunya" newspaper in Lahore, says he has been threatened and summoned by the military intelligence agencies numerous times for reporting on army corruption, political manipulations, and the deterioration of Islamabad's relations with Washington over the presence of Bin Laden in Pakistan.

In towns and cities across Pakistan, there have been daily protests against the attack on Mir -- with journalists, lawyers, and civic activists calling for the culprits to be caught and brought to justice.

The say the attack on Mir highlights how Pakistani journalists are under constant threat for their stories.

Dietz told RFE/RL that Mir had notified the CPJ with the names of "all sorts of people -- not just the military and not just the ISI" about many threats and possible attacks against him.

"He made enemies up and down the full spectrum of Pakistani political life," Dietz explained. "He said he was threatened by people from the Taliban, from political parties" including the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, which is a dominant political force in Karachi.

"He said he was threatened by the Baloch National Army," Dietz continued. "He said he's been threatened by the military and intelligence community. He's been threatened by a wide range of people. In fact, [the attempted assassination] could have come from many different places."

A Household Name

Mir became a household name in Pakistan during the rule of military leader General Pervez Musharraf.

At that time, some critics claimed Mir was a spy for India after his work showed Pakistani militants were operating in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In 2005, senior Pakistani generals labeled Mir a "traitor" after he openly opposed what authorities were calling "peace agreements" between Pakistan's Army and Taliban militants in the tribal regions.

After emergency rule was imposed in 2007, Musharraf slapped a four-month broadcasting ban on Mir and called him a Taliban sympathizer.

But Mir later claimed that ban was retaliation for exposing evidence of ISI support for Islamic militants who clashed with Pakistani security forces at Islamabad's Red Mosque.

After Musharraf's resignation, President Asif Ali Zardari's government also banned Mir and Geo TV news broadcasts for several days.

Mir has been threatened by militant groups for his investigative work on Pakistan's Taliban, and after he criticized the Taliban for attempting to kill the teenage girls' education activist Malala Yousafzai.

Mir has also written and spoken out in support of women's rights, and against U.S. drone missile attacks in Pakistan.

His supporters say he has been a voice of peace and objective journalism in an environment where more objective journalism is needed.