A day in the fight for the right to knowhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-day-in-the-fight-for-the-right-to-know/

A day in the fight for the right to know

An attempt on my life last year in Pakistan made me a hero for a powerless majority.

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Journalist Hamid Mir works for Geo TV, Pakistan. (Source: Reuters)

Six bullets were pumped into my body on April 19, 2014 in Karachi. I was to make a journey from Islamabad to Karachi. I wasn’t very keen on the trip because I had received many threats a few days earlier. I wanted to go on leave and had already informed my management in writing about the threats.

The director of current affairs at Geo News was insistent that I conduct a special show from Karachi on suicide attacks: why the ratio of suicide attacks hadn’t gone down despite a 100-day break in US drone strikes. The channel was planning a talkshow with more than eight guests. It was not possible to do a programme like that in our humbler office in Islamabad. I agreed to do it from Karachi, but half-heartedly. I tried to deceive my ill-wishers by booking a flight from Islamabad to Quetta. I changed the flight only on the morning of April 19 and was sure that my enemies were much smarter than me. I shared my apprehensions with my wife. She sacrificed a black goat (Sadqa) before my departure.

When I came out of the Karachi airport, my instincts alerted me that “something is wrong”. My office sent me a car with driver. When I asked him about the security guard, he replied the man wasn’t allowed to enter the airport premises because of his pistol. We picked him up outside. When we were near the Natha Khan Bridge, I heard gunshots. I immediately realised I was the target because bullets smashed the car windows and I felt a bullet hitting my right shoulder. I remember shouting to my driver, “Run, Run, try to run away!”

I commend my Pashtun driver for keeping hold of his senses. With his foot on the pedal, he raced the car. The attackers were adamant and professional. They were trained and wouldn’t give up. I remember the chase as it began. Two motorbikes were whizzing past the traffic, buzzing like bees on my trail, firing bullets. I received more bullets. I was calling my colleagues at the Karachi office for help. They asked me to rush to any hospital.

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The Baluch guard suggested we go to the Agha Khan hospital, since the others were not safe. The attackers chased me for 10 minutes. When we were close to the hospital, I received more bullets — in my stomach, one puncturing my urinary bladder and damaging my intestines. I was now losing consciousness. I received a call from the defence minister, Khawaja Asif. I told him that I was under attack. Then I lost my voice. When I reached the emergency ward, I tried to get out of the car but fell down. I realised both my legs were damaged. I thought I was going to die. I recited the “Kalma Tayyaba”. I was thinking of my daughter. I prayed for her and lost consciousness.

I briefly regained consciousness the next day. A doctor told me with a smile, “It’s nothing short of a miracle that you have managed to survive. Now you are all right.” I was aware that I had miraculously survived, but I was not all right. I asked myself, “What was my crime? Why did they try to kill me?” I was thinking of some security officials who had warned me a few days before the attack that I should not invite Mama Qadeer Baloch to my show, that I should not touch upon enforced disappearances in Balochistan and that I had better avoid discussing the treason case against Pervez Musharraf. I had ignored these warnings in light of my professional responsibilities. Maybe that is where I had committed a crime.

I was completely unaware that some powerful people had already launched a campaign against a bedridden journalist. They were trying to make a villain of a victim. My TV channel and I were declared traitors. I became the target of hate speech. My channel faced charges of blasphemy. On the third day after the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited me and told me that he had established an inquiry commission to unmask the conspiracy within three weeks.

The attack started a cold war between some army officials and the government because my family had suspected some ISI officials were the architects of the attempt on my life. ISI officials were angry not only with my channel but also with the PM, since he dared to visit a “traitor” in hospital. The Lashkar-e-Toiba (working as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa) raised slogans against Geo TV, carrying pictures of the ISI chief and delivering speeches in his support. On the other hand, all major parties and the provincial assemblies of Balochistan and Sindh adopted resolutions in my support. Journalists and civil society organised demonstrations. I was a villain for a powerful minority, but a hero for a powerless majority.

Within a few days, I was summoned by the inquiry commission comprising three Supreme Court judges. I requested them to visit me in hospital. The commission sent a message that I must visit them. I made my first appearance before the commission in Karachi, with two medical bags in one hand and my written statement in the other. I made my next two appearances in Islamabad within three weeks, on a wheelchair and in a lot of pain. I still remember a famous politician coming to see me and saying, “I feel sorry for you, but your channel is finished. Some army officials told me that they will not allow Geo News to work. The people are with you but not with your channel. Therefore, you better join some other channel.” It was a message from the powerful security establishment. I told him, “Maybe my ship is sinking, but I prefer to sink with it instead of leaving it.”

Doctors advised me to rest for at least six months, but I came back to work after three, with two bullets still inside me. Geo TV was under attack from all sides. The government came under pressure and filed a treason case against us. Cable operators were forced to black out the most popular channel. Some senior colleagues, including some top anchors, were forced to quit. Colleagues advised me, “It’s time to move on. Maybe some other place, otherwise they will attack you again.” I think my family suffered more than I did. I refused to make compromises on professional ethics and, ultimately, my family paid the price. I survived, but I am no longer living a normal life. I still receive threats. A year has passed, but there is no outcome of the inquiry.

I understand that Pakistan’s superior judiciary is also under pressure. Pakistan is a democracy but its parliament, judiciary and media are still struggling for their independence. The media has been facing an unannounced censorship from the powerful security establishment for a year, but we never gave up. The majority still trusts the Pakistani media because we made sacrifices in the public interest. Public interest runs parallel to the national interest and I am proud to be a journalist fighting for people’s right to know.

The writer works for Geo TV. He was attacked in Karachi last year on April 19