Pakistan: Who’s Afraid of the ISI?

Ali Sethi in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_598 May. 02 18.01Over the past week, a shocking debate has raged in Pakistan, in full view of the Pakistani people, about the nature and power of the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, the country’s elusive, military-operated spy agency. It has emerged in a rare face-off between the ISI and the Jang-Geo group, Pakistan’s largest media house, following the attempted assassination of journalist Hamid Mir, who hosts one of Geo TV’s most popular current affairs programs.

On April 19, as the forty-eight-year-old Mir was being driven out of Karachi’s airport, a man fired nine shots at him with a 9mm pistol, hitting him in the ribs, stomach, hand, and thigh, before fleeing the scene. Mir was rushed to a hospital, where he remains in critical condition. A few hours later, his younger brother went on Geo News and laid the blame for the shooting not on some extremist group, but on the ISI itself. “A few elements in the ISI are against Hamid Mir due to his viewpoint about [former military dictator] Pervez Musharraf and the Balochistan crisis,” said Amir Mir, who also works for Jang-Geo. He added that he held the head of the ISI, Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam, “personally responsible” for the attack. Still more explicit was the montage of pictures used by Geo News to illustrate this accusation: an unconscious Hamid Mir with a respirator on his mouth; a bullet-riddled car; and a photograph of Zaheer-ul-Islam—a man who shuns television appearances—looking smug and serene as he shook hands with soldiers at a ceremony.

Within minutes there was a furious response to these charges: first on Facebook and Twitter, where mysterious cyber-entities, many of them with sultry female names, unleashed a torrent of hate against the “traitors” at Geo TV; then, a few hours later, on Geo’s rival TV channels, Express and ARY, where assorted analysts and columnists attacked Hamid Mir, tried to portray the allegations against the ISI as an Indian-American conspiracy, and raised questions about the intentions of Mir Shakilur Rahman, Geo’s eccentric, Dubai-based owner.

More here.