I have been holding off on this story for a while just because I wanted to see if it actually developed into anything. Sometimes these things pop up, but then quickly disappear if there’s nothing to them. Actually, I will not take any opinion about the validity of the charges, but I think that since the issue involves a major media organization and the story has begun to be reported in the international press, it is worthwhile to examine the facts.
The story involves Hamid Mir who works for Geo TV. He is accused of instigating the murder of Khalid Khawaja, and ex-ISI official, by Taliban kidnappers.
What is the story?
In order to get beyond the suspicions and rumours that seem to be surrounding much of this story, let’s look at how this incident was reported by the UK newspaper Guardian. I have removed paragraphs about reactions to the incident to put together a basic storyline. We will look at Hamid Mir and other reactions to the story directly also.
The tape purports to be a recording of a phone conversation between the journalist, Hamid Mir, and a Taliban spokesman about the fate of Khalid Khawaja, a former intelligence agent being held by the Taliban.
In the tape Mir describes Khawaja as a CIA collaborator, questions his Islamic credentials, and accuses him of playing a treacherous role in the 2007 Red Mosque siege in which more than 100 people, including the chief cleric, were killed. When the abductor asks the journalist whether Khawaja should be released, he urges him to further interrogate him.
Last month Khawaja’s bullet-pocked body was found on a roadside in Waziristan with a warning note to other “American spies”.
The Taliban added to the controversy by issuing a statement that denied the tape was real but, confusingly, threatened the state telephone company for having taped the conversation.
On 24 April the Taliban issued a video showing a strained-looking Khawaja admitting to having worked for the CIA and betrayed the Red Mosque clerics.
A week later, after his execution, Mir wrote a detailed account of Khawaja’s life. He recycled the allegations against the former ISI agent, attributing them to militant sources.
Hamid Mir Responds
Hamid Mir publicly responded to the charges against him in a column for The News, the newspaper owned by Jang Group which also owns Geo TV on which his show appears. Calling the story a “grand plot against media.”
On his Facebook page, Hamid Mir threatened legal action against Daily Times and some blogs for publishing the story.
‘We are taking legal action against Daily Times(owned by Salman Taseer) and some US based blogs supervised by Mr.Hussain Haqqani for hatching a conspiracy against Hamid Mir by using a fabricated tape.’
The blog Let Us Build Pakistan, an independent blog of PPP supporters, has been tracking the story closely, since May 14 when they published the recording of Hamid Mir.
Daily Times has also responded to the legal threats from Hamid Mir today in its editorial:
In DT’s editorial “Shocking revelations” (May 17, 2010), we argued: “There should be a thorough investigation into the matter by the security agencies. It should first be ascertained whether it was actually Hamid Mir or an impersonator on the audiotape.” We did not pass judgment on the genuineness or otherwise of the audiotape, but left room for the possibility that it was a forgery, as Mir has subsequently claimed amidst his loud protestations of innocence. In an inadvertent admission, however, he says the audiotape is an amalgam of bits and pieces of other conversations (innocent journalistic exchanges, according to him). Even if this is conceded, there is sufficient in the ‘bits and pieces’ to arouse alarm. Surely Mr Mir should welcome the opportunity to clear his name if the tape is indeed a forgery. On the other hand, if it turns out to be genuine, Mir has a lot to answer for and the law should take its course. The country is in the middle of a life-or-death struggle against the homegrown jihadis who have declared war on the state. Journalists, who are engaged in an increasingly precarious and dangerous profession in conflict areas, may be required for professional reasons to keep lines of communication open with the ‘enemy’. However, this does not give anyone, journalist or not, room to transcend the law of the land or the ethics of his profession. If the tape is genuine and Mir did say the things about Khalid Khwaja that are on the tape, a prima facie case is made out for his arraignment on charges that could include being an accessory before the fact to the murder that followed, as well as in possible violation of the Army Act (applicable to civilians in times of war). The statement released by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan denying the contents of the tape and trying to clear our intrepid anchor’s name has done more to muddy Hamid Mir’s case than anyone else could have.
Other Journalists Weigh In
Ayesha Sidiqqa is a regular contributor to Dawn, and has a Ph.D. in War Studies from King’s College, University of London. She has written two books on Pakistan’s military. On her blog, Dr. Sidiqqa writes,
Is the man conversing with, whats alleged as a member of the Punjabi Taliban, Hamid Mir? The simple answer is yes. The man in the tape is Hamid Mir beyond doubt. The voice and style of conversation is his. I have had conversations with him on several occasions and he breaks stories in this very style. The conversation should not surprise people as Hamid Mir has old links with the Islamiscts and the intelligence agencies. In the world of the armed forces information is difficult to access. Relatively better access to information comes at a price which Hamid Mir and many other journalists in the world, particularly Pakistan pay happily. There is not a single journalist, especially on the electronic media who comments on national security and is not fed by the military. I remember one very popular journalist who even writes for foreign press. He is considered an authority on military affairs. The poor chap cannot tell the front of a submarine from its back. Planting people in the media and intelligentsia is an old trick. The only matter of concern really is that how and why is the audio recording made available on the net? The real story is the disclosure rather than the conversation.
UPDATE: Journalist and former BBC correspondent Shahid Malik writes in an email today:
Award winning journalist and documentary maker Asad Qureshi life is under severe danger of being cut short by his captives in Waziristan. Hamid Mir claiming that the famous tape recording is fake and fabricated is naked lie, for no ones voice can be faked perfectly, as it is like your finger print and the voice on the tape certainly does belong to Hamid Mir. TTP member has supposedly come forward in support of him claiming it to be fake also.As Hamid Mir is the only known clue to who have abducted Asad Qureshi as he is in touch with them, he should be questioned ASAP to recover Asad from his captors. The media trial and or taing sides can go on, but a stake is a innocent life and that also of the one of our best reporter/ director and documentary maker. Please to check the credentials of Asad Qureshi at www.imdb.com and also look at his award winning documentary on the 2005 earth quake and Wazirisan called ‘Wana Olives’ and many others.
From the comments:
An extract reportedly from an email has been attributed to journalist and former BBC correspondent, Shahid Malik. I write this to clarify that the credit for its authorship is not mine.
The paragraph in question caught my attention only today (November 10, 2010); hence a belated correction.