There is a bizarre tendency in Pakistan: Whenever a writer, journalist or an intellectual tries to voice an opinion that is unacceptable to the military and intelligence establishment, the person is immediately tagged a traitor.
Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan says that any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force, show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason and must be tried under the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973. However, none of the four military dictators who abrogated the Constitution to usurp political power and rule Pakistan were called traitors and it has always been civilians who have been called traitors. But history changed in December 2013 when the country’s fourth military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, was formally indicted by a special court on charges of high treason.
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I have always taken an unwavering stand in my TV shows and newspaper columns on the Musharraf issue: I argued that he must be face trial and not given a safe exit out of the country. But the irony is that after surviving an assassination attempt in Karachi on April 19, I have been put in the same category as Musharraf by his backers in the all-powerful intelligence establishment. I am being called a traitor for standing up for the rights of the missing people of Balochistan who have been abducted and killed brutally by the security forces. Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan has admitted for hearing a petition filed against some other journalists, including me, seeking trial on treason charges for allegedly bringing the armed forces of Pakistan to disrepute.
The episode seems to be a replay of what had happened to my late father, Waris Mir, when he opposed the Pakistani military’s operation in what was formerly East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) over 40 years ago that eventually led to the dismemberment of the country. My father, a journalist, writer and an intellectual besides being a professor at the mass communication department of the University of the Punjab, Lahore, too was rewarded with the same title (traitor). His contributions were, however, recognised by the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh that decorated him with their highest civil awards posthumously. While my father had been joined by writers, poets and intellectuals of that period in his struggle, I have been joined by journalists and human right activists in my fight.
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My first reaction upon being tagged a ‘Ghaddar’ was to ask myself: Am I a traitor? The khakis in Pakistan are so ruthless in abusing the label of a traitor that they did not spare Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, despite the fact that she played a prominent role in the Pakistan movement. When Pakistan’s first military dictator General Ayub Khan subverted democracy, Fatima Jinnah dared to mock the power of these men with guns. When she decided to contest the presidential election against General Khan, the Pakistani establishment labelled her an Indian agent and a traitor. Almost 49 years later, although there is democracy in Pakistan, the khakis have held it hostage and the elected government as well as the superior courts seem helpless.
To tell the truth, the Pakistan media today is paying a heavy price for its independent stance on important issues. Over 150 journalists from both the electronic and print media have been killed in the country since 9/11. Many of them (like the late Syed Saleem Shahzad) were abducted by the agencies, tortured and killed. I know dozens of journalists who have been forced to quit the profession or leave their home towns. I also know of some journalists who refused to quit their profession and were subsequently killed. In fact, physical attacks and threats of violence represent an extreme form of masked censorship in Pakistan. Two television journalists — Hayatullah Khan from North Waziristan and Musa Khankhel from Swat — told me that they would be assassinated. I did make their apprehensions public in my columns but their lives could not be saved.
We know that the government in Pakistan is vulnerable and our democracy is fragile but we will keep pursuing our mission of telling the truth that is superior to ‘national interest’. We do know that Pakistan is the most dangerous place in the world and journalism is the most dangerous profession, but we hope that one day we will be able to defeat the forces of dictatorship, terrorism and extremism, provided we keep telling the truth. The new generation of Pakistanis will not accept the kind of censorship that the mighty military establishment wants to impose on the country under the garb of ‘national interest’. Its primary intention, however, is suppression of truth.
Hamid Mir is executive editor of Geo TV The views expressed by the author are personal