Pakistani media bitterly divided over Imran-led agitation


Mr Imran KhanMir continues to chide the army — he rounded off a recent show with a note to his viewers that “interference of army in politics is treason”
By Jon Boone
30th August, 2014

Hamid Mir, one of the few remaining famous faces on what was until recently Pakistan’s most watched television station, runs a nightly gauntlet to get to his Islamabad studio.

For weeks the street outside has been full of rowdy supporters of Imran Khan, an opposition politician, who is leading street protests a few hundred metres away aimed at forcing out the government.

Imran vs. Geo

Mr Khan’s supporters not only loathe the rule of the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, they also hate Geo, the news channel that Mr Khan decries from the roof of a converted sea container, from where he makes daily addresses to thousands of supporters.

“They regard Geo as the enemy,” says Mr Mir “[Khan] is talking against my channel every night and his workers attack our journalists every day.” Some politicians have declined invitations to appear on his evening Capital Talk programme, saying they are unsure they can safely get behind the razor wire topped wall recently erected around the building.

The deep animosity of Mr Khan towards the Geo-Jang media conglomerate that employs Mr Mir is one element of a political crisis that has bitterly divided the media and the political class. Many analysts also believe it has helped the military in its long-running battle for supremacy over the civilian government.

Mr Mir, a veteran journalist often close to the centre of events, played an inadvertent role in triggering the current crisis when he was critically injured by gunmen who opened fire on his car as he was travelling through Karachi in April.

Even as he was unconscious in hospital, his colleagues at Geo wasted no time in broadcasting explosive allegations that the attempted killing had been ordered on the direct orders of Zaheer ul-Islam, the head of the country’s powerful military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).

The accusation sparked fury from the Army, who strongly rejected the unsubstantiated allegations and demanded that the enormously popular station be shut down. But Nawaz Sharif, a Prime Minister determined to bring to heel a military that ousted him in a 1999 coup, very publicly backed Geo.

The standoff further soured relations with a military top brass already angry at Mr Sharif for the high treason trial he ordered for the former dictator Pervez Musharraf and for the Prime Minister’s dogged resistance to Army demands for military operations against the Pakistan Taliban.

For his part, Mr Khan has blamed Geo for being complicit in what he claims was the industrial rigging of last year’s general elections — a claim that has not been supported by independent election observers. Although Mr Khan’s long sit-in outside Parliament is ostensibly to protest against electoral fraud, most commentators believe he would not have launched his “long march” if Mr Sharif had not been severely weakened by his bruising battles with the Army.

Some fear Mr Khan and Mr Qadri may even have unwittingly helped cement a “soft coup” by the army, which will leave Mr Sharif in power but subordinate to the military. Despite his near assassination, which left two bullets inside him, and the beleaguered state of the company he works for, Mr Mir continues to chide the army — he rounded off a recent show with a note to his viewers that “interference of army in politics is treason”.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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