A jour­nal­ist’s life on the run

The at­tempted killing of a famed Pak­istani news­man is one ex­am­ple in a wide­spread back­lash


Is­lam­abad, pak­istan — The most fa­mous tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist in Pak­istan lives like a fugi­tive. Hamid Mir tells no one where he is go­ing, how he will get there or where he will spend the night.

At Mir’s of­fice, his cur­tains are al­ways drawn. He uses at least two cell­phones and, un­til re­cently, he ro­tated among three res­i­dences to ob­scure his pre­cise lo­ca­tion, even from friends.

Even with all these pre­cau­tions, Mir is anx­ious and jit­tery, most of all when he gets into the back seat of his bul­let­proof car to drive to the tele­vi­sion stu­dios for his show, “Cap­i­tal Talk.”

“Most nerve-rack­ing part of the day,” says the 49-year-old fa­ther of two, clench­ing the grab bar above him on a re­cent morn­ing as the driver ca­reens through the city tak­ing last-minute in­struc­tions on which roads to take. Mir ig­nores in­com­ing calls from un­known num­bers and swivels from side to side, watch­ing traf­fic to see whether any ve­hi­cle stays too close for too long.

Mir is not just try­ing to avoid recog­ni­tion; he also is des­per­ately try­ing to avoid a re­peat of what hap­pened to him a lit­tle over a year ago as he was be­ing driven from the air­port to the Karachi of­fices of Geo Tele­vi­sion, the net­work that em­ploys him.

That day, a man stand­ing along the road opened fire on his car.

When the first bullet shat­tered the rear pas­sen­ger win­dow and tore through his right shoul­der, he ac­tu­ally felt re­lieved, he said. He was still alive.

But then he re­al­ized that four


men on two mo­tor­cy­cles were chas­ing his car through the city streets, guns out.

Bul­lets pierced his body, in­clud­ing his right thigh, stom­ach and blad­der. By the sixth im­pact, he be­gan los­ing con­scious­ness, and his mother, fa­ther, wife and chil­dren ap­peared.

“Their faces went around inmy head,” he re­called.

The at­tack on Mir and the con­tin­u­ing death threats against him are em­blem­atic of a broad back­lash against trans­parency and in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism in many parts of the world.

Six out of seven cit­i­zens have lit­tle or no ac­cess to in­sight­ful re­port­ing about their gov­ern­ments even though the In­ter­net has made other types of in­for­ma­tion ubiq­ui­tous, ac­cord­ing to or­ga­ni­za­tions that mon­i­tor re­port­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally.

World­wide, the last three years have been par­tic­u­larly hard on those who gather the news: An av­er­age of more than one jour­nal­ist a week has been killed for rea­sons con­nected to his or her work, or about 205 jour­nal­ists, ac­cord­ing to the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that in­ves­ti­gates at­tacks on the media.

This year, at least 38 more have been killed. The dead in­clude eight Char­lie Hebdo jour­nal­ists in Paris, a Brazil­ian ra­dio broad­caster tor­tured and shot, an In­dian re­porter burned to death for in­ves­ti­gat­ing lo­cal cor­rup­tion, and a Ja­panese free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher who was be­headed by the Is­lamic State in Syria.

Pak­istan, with its volatile mix of shad­owy se­cu­rity forces, in­ternecine po­lit­i­cal bat­tles, ter­ror­ist groups and crim­i­nal net­works, is one of the most dan­ger­ous coun­tries for lo­cal jour­nal­ists out­side of war zones, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions and press free­dom groups. Since 2001, 52 jour­nal­ists have been killed here be­cause of their re­port­ing. Crim­i­nal charges have led to con­vic­tions in only two cases.

Who nearly killed Hamid Mir on April 19, 2014, re­mains amys­tery. A mag­net for ha­tred

To be a cru­sad­ing jour­nal­ist in Pak­istan is to have­many en­e­mies.

In Mir’s case, some el­e­ments in the coun­try’s most-feared in­tel­li­gence agency, In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence, or ISI, de­spise him for his ex­posés of their dou­ble-deal­ings and se­cret in­flu­ence on pol­i­tics, he says. The Pak­istani Tal­iban and lo­cal ter­ror­ist net­works hate him for his out­spo­ken crit­i­cism of their tac­tics and ide­ol­ogy and for his sup­port for girls’ ed­u­ca­tion. Var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal par­ties re­vile him for find­ing cor­rup­tion in their ranks and for his more tol­er­ant view of In­dia, which they would rather blame for Pak­istan’s many ills.

The sunny view of press free­dom in Pak­istan is that it’s still evolv­ing, mov­ing for­ward, not back­ward.

Un­til 2002, when the gov­ern­ment de reg­u­lated the media in­dus­try, there was only one state-run tele­vi­sion sta­tion and a hand­ful of heav­ily reg­u­lated ra­dio out­lets. To­day, many of the li­censes for the nearly 90 TV sta­tions, 150 ra­dio out­lets and hun­dreds of news­pa­pers are in­de­pen­dently owned.

But media stan­dards vary widely. Brib­ing re­porters for fa­vor­able cov­er­age is well-known, as are head­lines based on ru­mors. Most large media out­lets are funded by own­ers who don’t hide their strong po­lit­i­cal allegiances.

The media wing of the ISI of­ten ex­erts pres­sure on news out­lets, ac­cord­ing to for­mer U.S. diplo­matic and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials. It mon­i­tors the news, plants sto­ries and in­tim­i­dates re­porters and ed­i­tors.

The media wing’s larger goal is to keep the mil­i­tary’s in­flu­ence on so­ci­ety ob­scured, its oper­a­tions se­cret, and to pro­mote its strate­gic ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials. This in­cludes dis­tanc­ing it­self pub­licly from the United States, even though its mil­i­tary has re­ceived bil­lions in U.S. tax­payer money, records show.

Re­ports by Mir and other Pak­istani jour­nal­ists on the mil­i­tary’s se­cret sup­port for the Afghan Tal­iban and the ISI’s in­volve­ment in CIA covert armed drone strikes deeply em­bar­rassed the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment.

For a mil­i­tary that has di­rectly con­trolled the levers of power three times in Pak­istan’s history, these ac­count­abil­ity sto­ries only deep­ened its con­vic­tion to curb such jour­nal­ism. In­ter­na­tional hu­man rights in­ves­ti­ga­tions and U.S. State Depart­ment re­ports are filled with al­le­ga­tions of how hard it has tried since 2001.

In the province of Baluchis­tan, for ex­am­ple, se­cu­rity forces have been blamed by hu­man rights ad­vo­cates for the deaths and dis­ap­pear­ances of many of the thou in­ter­ests, of miss­ing civil­ians. In that province, 13 jour­nal­ists have been killed since 2008.

Mir pro­duced more than 38 shows on the topic in the two years lead­ing up to the at­tack on his life.

In 2012, a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial warned Mir to stop re­port­ing on it: “Your life is un­der threat; you should stop rais­ing your voice,” Mir quoted them an as say­ing.

Mir’s re­sponse: Another re­port on his show about Baluchis­tan’s miss­ing. In his fa­ther’s foot­steps

Mir is the son of an out­spo­ken news­pa­per jour­nal­ist who died at age 48 un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances. Waris Mir had been feel­ing fine when all at once, one sum­mer day in 1987, he fell ill. He was dead within a day.

Dur­ing the war over Bangladesh’s in­de­pen­dence in 1971, the Mirs resided on the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Punjab in La­hore. Waris Mir, a pro­fes­sor there, en­ter­tained fa­mous writ­ers, politi­cians and ac­tors.

He was al­ways on the side of peace­mak­ers and un­der­dogs. He hid Ben­gali stu­dents in the house when war broke out. His trou­bles in­ten­si­fied when mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Mo­hammed Zia ul-Haq came to power. Thef ather pub­licly op­posed the gen­eral’s drive to turn sec­u­lar Pak­istan, with its ma­jor­ity Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, into an Is­lamic state un­der au­thor­i­tar­ian rule.

Waris Mir moved to Lon­don for sev­eral years to es­cape threats. When he re­turned to Pak­istan, he wrote with­er­ing at­tacks against the Is­lamiza­tion drive, and the threats in­creased.

One morn­ing, he sud­denly fell ill and died.

Fam­ily mem­bers saw his corpse black­en­ing and sus­pected poi­son­ing, which Waris Mir had openly wor­ried about. But be­fore a post­mortem ex­am­i­na­tion could be ar­ranged, he was buried.

Be­nazir Bhutto, who be­friended Waris Mir in Lon­don but was not yet prime min­is­ter, cameto the Mir house to con­sole the fam­ily.

“What do you do?” she asked him.

“I play cricket,” said Hamid Mir, who was a ris­ing sports star.

“No, you should be­come a jour­nal­ist like your fa­ther,” she said. Bruised but de­ter­mined

Two months later, Mir started his re­port­ing ca­reer in La­hore as an in­tern, earn­ing $15 a month. He was good at build­ing sources, and he fit com­fort­ably into the po­lit­i­cal cir­cles where the scoops were to be found.

At 24, he got a big one. Pak­istan’s pres­i­dent, Ghu­lam Ishaq Khan, was plan­ning to dis­miss the Bhutto gov­ern­ment. Mir typed fu­ri­ously.

Within an hour of fil­ing the story, he was in trou­ble.

He was ab­ducted, beaten and driven to a house where his cap­tors de­manded to know his source for the story.

“Who gave you that story!?” one de­manded.

His source was con­fi­den­tial, he said. “Who!!!?” They held his arms and started to take off his shirt.

“I tried to be strong,” he said. “But when they re­moved my clothes, I broke.”

He told them that his source was the min­is­ter of par­lia­men­tary af­fairs. They put him back in the car and dumped him along the road.

The bruised Mir said he hoped his mother would ask him to quit jour­nal­ism. “Your fa­ther also faced alot of prob­lems, but you have to be de­ter­mined and com­mit­ted,” she told him.

He re­turned to work. Within a fewyears, he was the go-to re­porter at the Daily Jang. Mir was one of the first Pak­istani jour­nal­ists to in­ter­view Nel­son Man­dela, pres­i­dent of South Africa.

“It be­came very dif­fi­cult for me to con­trol my emo­tions be­cause I wanted to hug him,” Mir said about Man­dela. Next came in­ter­views with Osama bin Laden, Tony Blair and Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton.

In 2002, he joined Geo, the upand-com­ing tele­vi­sion sta­tion. His pop­u­lar­ity soared as Geo grew into one of the most-watched net­works in the coun­try.

Pres­i­dents, am­bas­sadors and min­is­ters sought to be on Mir’s “Cap­i­tal Talk,” a four-nights-asands week news talk show that mixed tra­di­tional re­port­ing with opin­ion. What he said mat­tered. He moved peo­ple to protest. He stirred de­bates on the touch­i­est sub­jects.

“Pak­istan is a highly politi­cized so­ci­ety. . . . So there are peo­ple who are his real fans in the coun­try, and there are peo­ple who re­gard him as sen­sa­tion­al­ist and are his op­po­nents,” said Zaf­far Ab­bas, editor of Dawn, one of the coun­try’s old­est news­pa­pers.

“He has been a con­tro­ver­sial per­son in the eyes of the gov­ern­ment, in the eyes of the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, in the eyes of many other peo­ple in Pak­istan.” Marked for death

One of Mir’s guests on “Cap­i­tal Talk” in 2009 was 11-year-old Malala Yousafzai.

The young school­girl re­minded Mir, he said, of the strong fe­male lead­ers his fa­ther had be­friended and de­fended. On the show, she calmly de­fied the armed Pak­istani Tal­iban who oc­cu­pied her iso­lated Swat Val­ley.

In 2012, the Tal­iban shot her in the head as she and her class­mates rode in a school van. Mir said he felt as if some­one had at­tacked his young daugh­ter.

That night he ex­ploded on cam­era: “I have a ques­tion for those who at­tacked her! . . . The ques­tion is whether you think that af­ter shoot­ing an un­armed and in­no­cent school-go­ing girl you have the right to call your­self a Mus­lim?”

The re­ac­tion to his sup­port for Malala was not uni­ver­sal ado­ra­tion. Death threats poured in by e-mail, Twit­ter and phone calls.

He said he re­al­ized the depth of his trou­bles when a po­lice of­fi­cer sent to pro­tect him at a rally spat at his feet. “Why would you de­fend Malala?” the man growled. “She is the daugh­ter of a whore.”

Sev­eral weeks later, a neigh­bor’s driver spot­ted an ex­plo­sive de­vice hid­den in the un­der car­riage of Mir’s car out­side hishome. A bomb squad de­fused it. The Pak­istani Tal­iban claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity, as they had for shoot­ing Malala. A war against Hamid Mir had be­gun. He scram­bled to de­fend his life and that of his wife

and chil­dren.

Mir rented a sec­ond house, then an apart­ment, and kept the lo­ca­tions a se­cret. He moved his fam­ily ev­ery few­days.

The peo­ple clos­est to him, he said, pleaded for him to leave the coun­try.

Gov­ern­ment back­lash

Two weeks be­fore the at­tempt by gun­men on Mir’s life, an ISI of­fi­cial beck­oned him to come to the Ser­ena Ho­tel in Is­lam­abad, he said.

There, ac­cord­ing to Mir’s af­fi­davit, a se­nior of­fi­cial “pleaded with me” to stop re­port­ing on the Army and the pros­e­cu­tion of for­mer pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf. He is ac­cused of ab­ro­gat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion when he de­clared a state of emer­gency for six weeks in 2007. Mir had done 44 re­ports on the is­sue.

“If the Army stops interfering in pol­i­tics, then I will never do a pro­gram on it again,” he told the man from the ISI, the af­fi­davit says.

The next week, ISI of­fi­cers came to his home, Mir said. His name was on a hit list, they told him. He told them that he was more wor­ried about the ISI.

The evening of the shoot­ing, Mir said he spoke with his wife by tele­phone. He told her that he didn’t want to travel to Karachi but needed to broad­cast a show from the city.

Later that evening as he left the air­port, a gun­man opened fire as his car slowed to round a cor­ner. His driver sped away. Mir felt ad­di­tional shots strike him and re­al­ized that gun­men on mo­tor­cy­cles had given chase.

“Run away! Run away!” Mir said he told the driver. Then he called his pro­ducer on the tele­phone: “I am un­der at­tack. I don’t know where to go.”

The gun­men pur­sued Mir’s car for 15 min­utes, shoot­ing as they gave chase, un­til his driver pulled into the Aga Khan Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal. The mo­tor­cy­cles dis­ap­peared into traf­fic.

At the hos­pi­tal, Mir, un­con­scious, was hooked to mon­i­tors and blood bags. The na­tion was riv­eted. Would he sur­vive? Should he sur­vive?

Some called him a hero; oth­ers la­beled him a traitor, a Jew, an agent of In­dia and a CIA spy.

When he awoke two days later, the prime min­is­ter, Nawaz Sharif, brought flow­ers and an as­sur­ance: A com­mis­sion would be cre­ated to find the cul­prits. It has yet to pub­lish its find­ings. Weeks later, when Mir was strong enough, he wrote the af­fi­davit, pro­vid­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors with the names of peo­ple who had threat­ened him and what they said.

He hadn’t seen the peo­ple who shot him, he wrote, but said he “sus­pected that some el­e­ments from the ISI were be­hind the at­tack.” He re­counted for in­ves­ti­ga­tors that se­nior ISI of­fi­cers had con­fronted him about his re­port­ing nearly a dozen times.

The as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt had to be ISI-di­rected, he told in­ves­ti­ga­tors. That same day, for­mer pres­i­dent Mushar­raf was in Karachi, too. The city was on high alert to pro­tect him.

“Only they can man­age that the CCTV cam­eras were not work­ing. And only they could have known aboutmy travel plans,” he wrote.

The Pak­istan gov­ern­ment “is do­ing its level best to pro­vide se­cu­rity to jour­nal­ists,” said Nadeem Ho­tiana, em­bassy spokesman, in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion to jour­nal­ists upon re­quest. “The gov­ern­ment has in­ten­si­fied ef­forts to ap­pre­hend all crim­i­nals in­volved in such at­tacks on jour­nal­ists.” He de­clined to com­ment on be­half of the ISI. Inthe past, the ISI has said it had no in­volve­ment in Mir’s as­sault.

Be­fore Mir was strong enough to get out of bed, his brother ap­peared on Geo and pub­licly ac­cused the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Za­heer ul-Is­lam, for be­ing be­hind the at­tack. It was a mis­cal­cu­la­tion of ma­jor pro­por­tions.

Na­tion­al­is­tic fa­nat­ics called Mir and Geo traitors. The ISI was fu­ri­ous. In a state­ment, it ac­cused Geo of try­ing to weaken Pak­istan. Geo of­fi­cials apol­o­gized in a news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ment, but when the pres­sure against the net­work con­tin­ued, it sued the in­tel­li­gence agency. The suit, whic his pend­ing, claimed the ISI had wrongly ac­cused the chan­nel of be­ing “an­tiPak­istan” and of in­cit­ing vi­o­lence against it.

Mir said the hos­pi­tal soon asked him, still weak and bedrid­den, to leave. He was moved to the nearby Mar­riott ho­tel, where a room with hos­pi­tal equip­ment was set up.

Geo, how­ever, had nowhere to seek refuge. Pro­gram­ming in some cities was blacked out or moved to ob­scure chan­nels when the gov­ern­ment sus­pended its broad­cast­ing li­censes. Many ad­ver­tis­ers were in­tim­i­dated from do­ing busi­ness with Geo.

“The at­tack ab­so­lutely changed ev­ery­thing . . . We dis­ap­peared, be­came another miss­ing per­son,” said Im­ran As­lam, Geo’s pres­i­dent.

A life in hid­ing

Lin­ger­ing pain

In his of­fice at Geo on a re­cent morn­ing, Mir looks over at a row of small tele­vi­sions.

“What should we do the show on?” his pro­ducer asks.

They set­tle on up­com­ing elec­tions and the ga­so­line cri­sis.

As he reads news clips, his pro­duc­tion team books guests, writes scripts and cre­ates video pieces. “Nazish, give me the shots of the min­is­ter mak­ing prom­ises,” Mir calls out as he walks into the pro­duc­tion room.

By6:15 p.m., Mir is tug­ging at his left leg and stuff­ing his chair with ex­tra cush­ions and stretch­ing. His leg, when it’s not numb, burns in pain from the bullet still lodged in it. A sec­ond round is stuck in his lower stom­ach, and the frag­ments of a third are near his blad­der.

But when the night’s guests be­gin to ar­rive— the petroleum min­is­ter and a for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter — Mir morphs into the fo­cused, charm­ing tele­vi­sion star. “I’m go­ing to ask ques­tions” that will leave him “shak­ing,” he jokes with one guest about another.

At 8:05, he stares straight into the cam­era: “Bis­mil­lah Ar­rah­man Ar­rahim, Asala­malaikum!” Welcome to ‘Cap­i­tal Talk’!

Mir barks tough ques­tions. When one guest says the oil short­age is proof that a mil­i­tary takeover is the only way to save the coun­try, Mir lights up. “Mar­tial law has never solved any cri­sis in Pak­istan!” he roars.

Dur­ing a break, the petroleum min­is­ter chuck­les: “I don’t usu­ally come on TV. But you have a way of tak­ing in­for­ma­tion [from] me.”

At 8:55, the show ends. Mir es­corts his guests to the el­e­va­tor, laugh­ing and back-slap­ping un­til the doors close.

Then, he hud­dles with his staff and thinks to him­self, “Who have I hurt?” He rushes down­stairs.

The an­swer por­tends the next round of threats. He in­spects the dark park­ing lot and dashes to the wait­ing car. Two uni­formed, armed guards climb into a sec­ond se­cu­rity ve­hi­cle. Mir zooms out into the night. Ali re­ported from Pak­istan. He is a grad­u­ate of the Philip Mer­rill Col­lege of Jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Mary­land. Priest re­ported from Washington. As a pro­fes­sor at the col­lege, Priest helped or­ga­nize a stu­dent pro­ject called “Press Un­cuffed” to raise aware­ness of im­pris­oned jour­nal­ists and fund­ing for the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists. Whit­ney Shefte con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Mir went back to work three months af­ter the shoot­ing. He was still on pain med­i­ca­tion. “If the Titanic sinks, I want to go down with it,” he told those who said he should leave the coun­try.

Mir re­al­ized his life had changed dra­mat­i­cally. Just a few years ago, he would take evening walks in the park and of­ten buy fresh juice be­fore his show.

He can no longer walk any­where alone. Other jour­nal­ists at Geo do much of his re­port­ing be­cause meet­ing sources is al­most im­pos­si­ble, ex­cept by phone, which he as­sumes is mon­i­tored.

Mir said he has toned down his crit­i­cism of mil­i­tary courts and other is­sues. He rarely re­ports any­more on Balochis­tan.

“Sur­vive, then do [ jour­nal­ism],” is his motto now.

His only es­capes are trips over­seas. Sev­eral months ago, he went out to din­ner in Dubai with his wife. “It was like a pris­oner came out of prison,” he said, crack­ing a rare smile.

He has sent his chil­dren out of the coun­try. He said his wife is an­gry that he has not left.

Large, yel­low con­crete bar­ri­ers for­tify the out­side of one of his homes on the out­skirts of Is­lam­abad. Three guards and barbed wire are con­spic­u­ous at what oth­er­wise ap­pears to be a typ­i­cal mid­dle-class house. The tra­di­tional candy and nut bowl is cov­ered in plas­tic wrap, a sign he’s not usu­ally here.

When Mir trav­els by car these days, he waits by the front door of his home for his driver to start the ve­hi­cle. Once he hears the mo­tor run­ning, he dashes into the back seat, be­hind tinted win­dow shades.

Twenty min­utes later, af­ter Mir’s car passes a round the bar­ri­cades of Geo’s head­quar­ters and through the se­cu­rity gate manned by three guards, he fi­nally re­laxes. He is ea­ger to get to work.

“He’s out there re­port­ing, cov­er­ing things that no one else is cov­er­ing, say­ing things that no one else is say­ing. . . . It would be dev­as­tat­ing if he were in a po­si­tion where he had to leave,” said Joel Si­mon, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists.

Some be­lieve Mir is mo­ti­vated by money and fame. Oth­ers be­lieve he is driven by a need to de­fend his col­leagues.

“If I leave the coun­try, a lot of young jour­nal­ists, they will be dis­cour­aged,” Mir said he tells his chil­dren.


Pak­istani tele­vi­sion hostHamidMir’s un­flinch­ing cov­er­age of con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects on his “Cap­i­tal Talk” show has put his life in peril. Bul­lets and frag­ments are still lodged in his body.


ABOVE: HamidMir’s Urdu-lan­guage news talk show is one of the most pop­u­lar in the coun­try. BELOWLEFT: Mir, who has sur­vived two as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts, emerges from an ar­mored SUV. He was gravely wounded in 2014 when gun­men shot him six times. BE­LOWRIGHT: Pri­vate se­cu­rity guards pa­trol the front of one of three res­i­dencesMir ro­tated among to thwart would-be at­tack­ers.


Mir leaves the Supreme Court in Is­lam­abad af­ter he gave tes­ti­mony be­fore a ju­di­cial com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing his at­tempted slay­ing.


Mir in­ter­viewed Osama bin Laden af­ter 9/11. Crit­ics said he was sym­pa­thetic; years later, the Tal­iban would rig a bomb un­der his car.

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