The true (ugly) face of Jehadis in Pakistan: Amir Mir, an eminent journalist, son of legendary Professor Waris Mir, brother of journalist Hamid Mir, provides a personal account of how he became a target of Jehadis cum intelligence agencies in Pakistan because of his book “The True Face of Jehadis”.
Source: Journalist Refuses to Accept Award from Musharraf, South Asian, June 05, 2006
Amir Mir on why he refused to take the All Pakistan Newspapers Society award for the Best Investigative Report from the Pakistani President.
“The APNS award in the category of the Best Investigative Report goes to Mr. Amir Mir of Monthly Herald. But the award cannot be given to him right now and the president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) would honour Amir Mir once the award distribution ceremony is over,” declared the senior vice president of the APNS who was conducting the annual award distribution ceremony in Islamabad on May 26, 2006. In the audience was present the chief guest of the function — General Pervez Musharraf, in his capacity as the President of Pakistan.
The announcement surprised me. Here I was sitting in the hall of a five-star hotel, waiting to receive the prestigious souvenir for which I had travelled all the way from Lahore. Yet, I must confess, I had prepared myself for any eventuality — the very presence of General Musharraf prompts such caution. The script for the ceremony was supposed to be a trifle different. Let me explain: a little before the ceremony began, at the time of entering the hall, I had handed over a letter to the APNS President.
The letter expressed, in as polite words as possible, my inability to receive the award “from a military dictator — General Pervez Musharraf — who has trampled the Constitution time and again since his military takeover in October 1999 and has no respect for the supreme law of the land.” Ask yourself: can you receive an award for best investigative report from a man who doesn’t believe in freedom of _expression and can’t tolerate opinions different from his? Mockery, too, must have its limits.
My letter to the APNS president said, “Journalism is a sacred profession, whose foundation lies on freedom of _expression. But on the contrary, the APNS has invited a military dictator as chief guest for the distribution of awards, who has no respect for the basic principle of press freedom. Being a military dictator, he neither believes in freedom of _expression nor tolerates difference of opinion. Therefore, although honoured much by the APNS, my receiving the award from a military dictator would be a stain on the worthy souvenir.”
At the same time, I made it clear in my letter that I do not want to relinquish the opportunity to receive my award, and that also without creating any fuss in the ceremony. I therefore asked the APNS president to ensure that during the award distribution ceremony, I am given my award either by him or by any other senior journalist. But hardly had I handed over the letter to the APNS president, a war of words ensued. The APNS was unwilling, for innumerable reasons, to spoil the ceremony or annoy the man who was both the Chief of the Army Staff and the President of Pakistan.
My repudiation to shake hands with the General on stage was based on a broad perimeter rather than any personal reason: the chief guest of the APNS ceremony undoubtedly adhered to the top echelons in both the fundamental departments, the army and the politics – in his capacity as the Army chief as well as the president. I do not know what Musharraf loves. But he is not particularly fond of the Constitution.
The General staged a coup in October 1999, following then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to invoke his constitutional powers to remove him from the coveted slot of the Army chief. He had himself elected as president through a farcical referendum, sweeping aside the constitutional requirement of election by parliament. This is despite the fact that anyone violating the 1973 Constitution is to be tried for treason charges under Article 6 of the supreme law of the land. This was my dilemma: do you shake hands and receive a souvenir from such a man?
Adherence to democratic principles has been my inheritance. My father, Prof. Waris Mir, was a fiery journalist who adopted a defiant posture against General Ziaul Haq, another president in uniform. He died at the age of 48 years because of the pressure, and ensuing mental torture, inflicted on him by the Zia regime. You cannot let your father down, can you?
As the APNS office-bearers tried to persuade me to receive the award from Musharraf, I told them I could not revert from my stance as my father had taught me that “Truth is superior to national interest” since the former is static, while the latter keeps changing with the change of rulers. However, the worthy APNS maintained that either I agree to receive the award from General Musharraf or return home empty-handed. Believing a compromise violated my father’s memory, I refused to rescind my position.
The general arrived in a dinner suit, surrounded by commandos. The APNS President made the opening speech, commending the government for providing a breathing space to TV channels but holding it guilty for stifling the print media. He said that because of the government pressure, most newspapers have adopted the policy of self-censorship and reporters are reluctant to file stories based on truth. His speech kindled the hope in me of not returning empty-handed from the ceremony.
It was now the General’s turn to speak. He claimed he had liberally “granted” freedom of _expression and speech to journalists, even to those overstepping their limits and hurting the national interest. Freedom of _expression, overstepping limits and national interest are sweet words, conveying noble sentiments. Yet they take on quite another meaning when you are removed from the post of editor, as I was from the Weekly Independent in June 2003, under the establishment’s pressure. My crime? I used to, as I still do, write bitter truth. That is enough for the establishment to label you as an anti-state element working for the enemy country.
With this label, I joined the Monthly Herald of Dawn Group of Newspapers and continued writing with the same professional zeal as ever, hence further substantiating my image of being ‘anti-state’. And I had to pay the price. In November 2003, my car was set on fire in Lahore right in front of my residence. My crime? I had authored a book, The True Face of Jehadis, which is a combination of information and analyses of the post-9/11 state of the jihad and the jihadi groups in Pakistan and their hidden and known links with intelligence agencies.
The findings of the US State Department’s Annual Report for the year 2003 in the Human Rights section had pointed out that the day the car was set ablaze, the head of the state was in Lahore, my city of residence. Even otherwise, a couple of days before the incident, while addressing an iftar dinner of newspaper editors in Islamabad, the all- powerful head of the state was quoted by the media as saying that Amir Mir of the Monthly Herald is an ‘Indian agent’ who is bent upon playing havoc with the national interest. Yet I could not refract from my vision of the relationship between the ‘truth’ and the ‘national interest’.
Eventually, the defenders of the national interest were successful in convincing the owners of the Monthly Hereld that I am an ‘anti-state element’ so the sooner they get rid of me the better. And so they did by making me quit. Look at the delicious irony: the General was supposed to award me for an investigative report I had done for the Monthly Herald before my ouster. The story for which I was to be awarded, said that in a bid to control terrorism, the Musharraf regime has given carte blanche to the American FBI, which is prying open the country’s sensitive national security system.
To wrap things up, the announcement by the stage secretary that I cannot be given the award was enveloped in disappointment, since my award was the first one in the queue and I was kind of hopeful that the APNS would do something to give me my award, yet it was a faint hope and nothing else. All I had done was exercise my freedom of _expression and my right to freedom. Yet I was denied my right in a gathering where pledges of press freedom, freedom of _expression and speech were being renewed. The APNS award distribution ceremony still flashes across my eyes as a great big farce, clearly depicting the true picture of the state of press freedom in Pakistan.
The writer is the former editor of Weekly Independent, currently affiliated with Reuters and the Gulf News