The assassination attempt on Hamid Mir mercifully failed. He is on the road to recovery and one can only wish him and his family well.

However, this unfortunate incident has had a multidimensional and severely polarizing impact on Pakistan as a whole and in particular on the Establishment. It has ushered in a fierce debate on freedom of speech, journalistic ethics and morality and our ubiquitous national interest. It has split the media community as well, bringing forth base professional rivalries. It has driven a wedge between various segments of civil society further widening its existing fissures and threatening to rip it apart. It has also brought the internecine struggle and rifts between the Security Establishment and the Government to the fore once again.

The Nawaz Sharif Government has failed to demonstrate the equanimity, wisdom and balance needed to stabilize and resolve the situation. Its tilt towards the media is very perceptible while its studied apathy towards the military is arrogant, compulsive and almost dismissive in nature. Its penchant to exploit fleeting opportunities for political gain, even at the cost of national interest, is damning at the least.

Where one expected the Government to take charge of the situation it mysteriously maintained its distance and silence and allowed the situation to sink from bad to worse and beyond. It deliberately allowed the media- military stand off to go ballistic for almost three days. The PM and many Federal Ministers visited Hamid Mir in the hospital. No political figure spoke a word to support the intelligence agency till the COAS’ visit to the ISI jolted them out of their stupor.

Was this then an indicator to where the Government already thought the blame lay? Even before an investigation and a trial had begun?

By default or otherwise, the Government appears to have got into a position of relative strength from which it now feels that it might be able to deal with both the Armed Forces and powerful media houses effectively!

If Hamid Mir’s apprehensions about the ISI prove to be true then it will become a lot easier for the Government to again try to assert its “civil authority” over the Security Establishment. If the media house under question ends up short on journalistic ethics, morality and legal grounds, then it could be squeezed for political advantage - a fortuitous win-win position for PM Nawaz Sharif and his party!

Could that be the reason then, for the strategic silence of the PM and his cabal for the first few days after the unfortunate incident? Did they deliberately allow this horrendous episode to fester and turn putrid to gain political advantage?

Hamid Mir apparently became a victim of his own ploy; a ploy that he had himself put in place, ostensibly, for his own safety. It was an exercise in self preservation albeit extremely naïve and speculative. Reportedly, he had fore-warned a number of his friends, relatives, well wishers and national and international organizations that if an attempt was made on his life then the ISI and its DG were to be deemed responsible. He sought safety by making his fears public. But the moment he nominated them his prime suspects, he himself became a prime target for hostile foreign agencies, organizations and individuals who needed to settle scores with the ISI, its DG and Pakistan in general. Simultaneously, he himself became a prime target again for all those who could have held a grudge against him, personally. Reportedly, the TTP had him on the top of a list of prime targets as per a Punjab Government letter making the rounds on the electronic media. These were very conducive conditions for sponsored agent provocateurs to exploit, too!

All anyone had to do was to crystallize Hamid Mir’s rather speculative fears and then let all hell break loose; as it apparently did.

Hamid Mir’s media house fell for the opportunity this incident provided and created conditions which were apparently exploited by RAW, the Indian and international media to the hilt. The (mis) perception of a rogue institution on the rampage was deliberately and continuously reinforced by its frenetic, although unsubstantiated TV transmissions on the incident.

A Joint Investigating Team (JIT) should assist the Judicial Commission set up by the Government to help unveil the assassins, their conspiracy and bring this very divisive and unwarranted blame game to a swift and judicious end. Furthermore, another Judicial Commission must also be announced that must delve into the financial support aspects of all major media houses. It must be tasked to unearth any ingress that may have been made by hostile foreign agencies into these media houses and any foreign investments that may have gone into the spectacular rise of some of them. The Parliament may also consider it a fit issue to consider and pursue.

PM Nawaz Sharif seems to have erred in his judgment. He had barely managed to resolve the earlier issues that strained civil-military relations when his leadership faced yet another challenge. He could have been more proactive here, too. He opted to take the backseat instead and resultantly we seem to have a split journalist’s community, a split Cabinet, a split team at the Government level and a split threatening the very fabric of our civil society.

One of the functions of leadership is to create and maintain a competent, willing and happy team.

PM Nawaz Sharif ought to use the Armed Forces as the most effective tool for policy implementation in the internal and external domain. He needs to employ them to defeat terrorism, to forestall external dangers and to manage natural disasters. He cannot do that with a fragmented and disjointed team. He does not need to have the military on the same page as his Government. On the contrary, he needs to have it as the most effective, willing and happy member of his team.

Your call, Mr Prime Minister!

The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).

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