Pakistan is a country of euphemisms. You find them everywhere. From male impotence to the country’s most feared intelligence agency —
there’s a euphemism for everything considered too “sensitive.”
Quite naturally, the military and its intelligence agencies
are among the more “sensitive” entities in Pakistan. They don’t like being named. So, when journalists and members of the public refer to them, they use a range of phrases. The military is “the establishment.” The Inter-Service
Intelligence (ISI), the leading spy agency, is the “agriculture department,” or simply, “the aliens.” Enforced disappearances are “trips to the northern areas.”
So I was quite surprised when Asad Ali Toor, a Pakistani journalist, quite openly referred to the ISI saying that persons identifying with the intelligence service attacked him at his home last month.
He was gagged, tied up, and severely beaten with a pistol butt. He’s the second journalist physically assaulted in the previous two months alone. In April, Absar Alam, a prominent journalist and commentator, was shot just outside his home. Both had criticized
the military, especially the ISI, days before the attacks.
Attacks with impunity
In July 2020, another prominent journalist, Matiullah Jan, was “picked up” from outside his wife’s school. Luckily, his abduction was caught on camera, and following a severe backlash, he
was released late into the night.
All these attacks occurred in the capital Islamabad, known for its extensive surveillance camera system, and yet no progress has been made to arrest the culprits.
To make matters even worse, journalists protesting these attacks also face unpleasant consequences. Hamid Mir, Pakistan’s best-known TV news anchor, was taken off air by his channel after he criticized
the military at a protest against the attack on Asad Ali Toor. He said his family was also being threatened. Mir later apologized for his speech, saying he didn’t intend to “defame” the military. His media group’s owner had spent months
in jail over what Human Rights Watch said were “politically motivated charges.” Mir himself, along with other critical journalists, face sedition charges.