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The Generals Strike Back
The ISI's Critics -- and the Agency's Efforts to Silence Them
AQIL SHAH is Lecturer in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. He is the author of The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).See more by this author
On April 19, unknown gunmen shot Hamid Mir, a well-known Pakistani journalist and private TV news anchor, in the port city of Karachi. By some stroke of luck, he survived. Mir’s family immediately blamed the attack on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), specifically naming its director general, Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, as the culprit.
Mir’s employer -- Geo TV, one of Pakistan’s most popular stations -- hurriedly broadcast the allegations, splashing Abbassi’s picture across TV screens in Pakistan for hours, setting off a political and media maelstrom in a country where the generals consider themselves above reproach and are certainly never named and shamed for crimes. On April 22, the ISI had Pakistan's defense ministry petition PEMRA, the country’s electronic media regulator, to revoke Geo TV’s transmission license and initiate criminal charges against its management for defaming the state. The military’s reaction stirred up a nationalist frenzy against Geo TV. In several cities, ISI-backed militant organizations, such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, staged angry protests, which competitor media organizations then gleefully broadcast along with talk shows segments questioning the patriotism of Mir and Geo TV. Ultimately, Geo and its affiliated newspapers were banned from military bases and units.
The more the generals crack down, the deeper the stain of their guilt sets. Before he was attacked, Mir had informed his family and close associates that the ISI was plotting to assassinate him and that the agency should be held responsible if he was harmed. The generals, he believed, were furious about his sustained reporting of their dirty war against Baluch insurgents in Baluchistan province. Last month, Mir invited the children and other family members of “disappeared” Baluch nationalists (who were allegedly abducted and murdered by the ISI) to appear on his popular evening talk show. That, he says, was the last straw.