The attack on Hamid Mir deserves the highest condemnation. However, even more shocking was GEO’s malicious anti ISI tirade that continued unabated for hours and the manner in which the DG ISI was accused without solid evidence.

GEO erred by projecting the views and allegations of Hamid Mir’s family with respect to the ISI, as the official viewpoint of the media group. To make matters worse, some stalwarts called for the DG ISI’s resignation. The question to ask is: who benefitted from the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir? Surely not the army or the ISI, but that ‘third force’ comprising hostile external agencies and in-country rogue political/ media elements constantly looking for opportunities to target and weaken Pakistan’s elite security institutions. They are aware that Pakistan’s army and ISI stand firmly as the country’s centre of gravity and are the guardians of its strategic weapons program. Luckily, Hamid Mir survived, but this third force succeeded in its design to make the ISI look controversial.

Hence it was not surprising that within minutes of the onslaught against the ISI, the Indian media jubilantly launched its venomous anti army/ISI propaganda with full force . Western media, too, used the opportunity to bash Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency.

The army and ISI have remained prime targets of a well orchestrated campaign since the return of democracy in 2008. This can be linked to a few controversial clauses in the Kerry Lugar Bill that aimed indirectly at curtailing the powers of the army/ ISI, the failed October 2008 notification by the last PPP government to place the ISI under the Interior Ministry, the PPP’s draft bill to defang the ISI that backfired, and former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani’s unsuccessful memorandum conspiracy against the army/ ISI.

Some questions arise. Why did the government , its information and defence ministries and especially the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority ( PEMRA ) not intervene in GEO’s non-stop anti-ISI live eight hour transmission? Should this failure be considered negligence or a deliberate condoning by elements within the government who still retain the pre-October 1999 mindset ?

The Joint Investigation Team ( JIT) comprising civil and military law enforcement and intelligence agencies must not only track down Hamid Mir’s attackers but also unearth the masterminds behind this attack. While the judicial commission comprising three honorable judges of the Supreme Court will surely examine all possible dimensions of the Hamid Mir case, it must also investigate the allegations of the anti Pakistan agenda by GEO, and the sources of funds.

While the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, it must be exercised with responsibility and maturity. While self regulation , internal accountability and ethics are essential principles that must be upheld by any media group , the state has a greater responsibility to monitor and regulate the media’s performance and activities; in particular the electronic media.

PEMRA needs to maintain its independence and autonomy in regulating Pakistan’s electronic media. It must assert its authority and implement the rules / regulations. It is a serious violation of PEMRA’s code of conduct in Schedule A of PEMRA’s Rules 2009, if television programs contain material against the ideology of Pakistan or aspersions against the judiciary and armed forces.

The nation expects that PEMRA, which is presently headed by a serving bureaucrat and is without a full time chairman, will shun the government’s influence on the reference forwarded by the Ministry of Defence against GEO. Despite PEMRA’s 14 day notice to GEO, it is hoped that proceedings will be held expeditiously in a fair and transparent manner while upholding national interest and merit.

That there exist clear divisions within the higher government echelons in the GEO- ISI crisis was evident from the diverse statements issued by opposite camps, one representing the hawks and the other including moderate PML-N ministers. This indicates the lack of cohesion within higher PML-N circles and hence the need for greater control over his ministers by the Prime Minister in managing crisis situations.

It is not the army chief, but the Prime Minister to whom the DG ISI directly reports on national security affairs. Unfortunately, it took many days for the Prime Minister to finally express moral support for and appreciate the ISI’s services towards the cause of the State’s security and integrity.

With PEMRA not visible at the peak of the current crisis, the truly Pakistani media deserves commendation for adopting a principled nationalistic position and taking a high moral ground by not supporting a sister media group in the GEO – ISI showdown . This is in line with our media’s historic role at the height of any national crisis like movements for the restoration of democracy and the judiciary in the country.

The nation will accept constructive criticism by the media to improve the effectiveness of our security organizations but will reject any nefarious agenda from any quarters to shake Pakistan’s ideological foundations or undermine the armed forces or intelligence agencies of the country.

The writer is retired Brigadier and political/ security analyst.

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