Am I a traitor?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hamid Mir, the executive editor of Pakistan’s Geo Television, survived an April 19 assassination attempt, but was badly injured. The shooting came a few weeks after the Pakistani government pledged in a meeting with CPJ to address the insecurity plaguing the country’s journalists. Shortly after the attack, some Pakistani media stated that CPJ had received an emailed video from Mir saying that if he were killed, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was responsible. Mir recently told CPJ that he had sent a video to his lawyer, who did not send it to CPJ. The ISI has denied the allegation it was behind the attack on Mir, according to news reports. This article was initially published in the daily Urdu-language Jang newspaper on May 5, 2014.

There are two types of traitors.

The first kind includes those who join hands with enemies and help enslave their own people. Among the most prominent of these is Jaffar Ali Khan, whose betrayal, as chief of army in 1757, eventually led to the British rule of the subcontinent. Over time, Jaffar’s name has become synonymous with treachery.

The other kind of traitor includes those who raise their voice against powerful local interests bent on collaborating with foreign powers in the name of “patriotism.” This kind does not carry arms, deploy tanks, or possess fighter aircraft. For weapons, they use their tongues to speak the truth–or pens, to write it. When they speak or write, those with guns call them traitors.

Our history is brimming with this second form of traitors. At present, a campaign has been launched to put people like myself and other journalists into this second category. Those who live under the shadow of the gun not only want to label me or my organization, Geo TV, as a traitor, but they want to revoke my citizenship as well.

But why? What is my crime?

An assassination attempt was made on my life a few days ago, in Karachi. I have six bullet wounds. Geo TV aired reports about my family’s suspicion that elements within Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, could be the mastermind of the attack. I had told my management many times in the recent past that ISI officials were trying to use extremists to silence my voice.

I was unconscious when my family suspected the ISI of using extremists against me. When I opened my eyes on the second day after the attack, I endorsed the stand my family took. Immediately, the ISI sent a reference to the government, declaring Geo TV to be a traitor. Banned militant outfits took to the streets in support of the ISI, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, saying they wanted the government to declare me and Geo TV to be traitors.

But I am not the only one. It seems such forces have been working for decades to dub figures in Pakistan’s history as traitors.

At times, someone making a political speech attacking dictatorship is called a traitor, while at other times poems praising democracy are dubbed treasonous. The men with guns used the label of “traitor” to describe Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, despite the fact that she played a prominent role in the historic Pakistan Movement, which called for secession from the British Empire. When she later opposed military dictator Ayub Khan in the 1965 presidential elections, powerful people labeled her an Indian agent and traitor.

Sometimes a traitor goes by the name of Habib Jalib, who wrote poems condemning army action in Dhaka in 1971. The regime of the dictator General Yahya Khan, who ordered the surrender of troops in Dhaka, not only called Jalib a traitor, but threw him in prison.

Others have also been called traitors: Pashtun nationalist Wali Khan and Baluch nationalists Ghaus Bux Bizenjo and Ataullah Mengal–even though these leaders played a key role in framing the 1973 Constitution and had pledged loyalty to Pakistan under that Constitution.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he who gave us the 1973 Constitution, was also labeled a traitor. His elected government was toppled and he, too, was later dubbed an Indian agent. He was then falsely implicated in a murder case and sent to the gallows. It was during the regime of General Zia-ul Haq, the military dictator who hanged Bhutto, that India occupied the heights of Siachen, the disputed glacier region in Kashmir.

During this period, politicians like Benazir Bhutto and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz, and my father Waris Mir, and countless political workers, journalists, poets, and writers, were all labeled traitors.

Deeming a war fought for the sake of foreign interests “patriotism,” Zia-ul Haq introduced the culture of the Kalashnikov, sectarianism, linguistic and ethnic divisions, and narrow provincialism into the country. To weaken the political forces arrayed against him, Zia doled out guns to certain religious groups, and fatwas declaring people “kaafirs” (non-believers), along with accusations of treachery, also became part of the political discourse.

When another prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, refused to bow before the power of the gun in 1999, his government was toppled and a case lodged against him for hijacking. He, too, was declared a traitor.

Then Akbar Bugti was labeled a traitor, even though he had voted in favor of Pakistan when it was born in 1947. For this, he was driven in his old age to a cave deep in the hills of Baluchistan, which became his final refuge and where, in 2006, he was killed. His death was blamed on General Musharraf, a man who subverted the Constitution of Pakistan–not once, but twice. Musharraf was termed a usurper by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, yet his supporters continue to call Bugti and his family traitors.

Although ostensibly there is democracy in the country today, the men with guns have held democracy hostage. Elected governments and superior courts look helpless in front of the people with guns. Through certain sell-out politicians, maulvis [priests], and intellectuals, those who champion the freedom of the press are, once again, called traitors. The wisdom of those sell-out individuals seems to be tied to the laces of the heavy boots.

Today, I do not seek to address those who have sold their consciences to the enemies of democracy, but to address you, the men with guns, directly. I want to tell you that only a person like me who has suffered bullet wounds on his own body can feel the importance of the sacrifice of our brave soldiers. I, too, salute the sacrifices of our brave soldiers for the defense of the country.

But remember, these men offer sacrifices for my country–not the protection of the unconstitutional privileges of a handful of people. You will not be able to hide your crimes behind the sacrifices of our brave soldiers. You represent the past that has fanned repression and injustice and the trampling of the rights of the smaller provinces. I represent the hope that wants to see every institution in Pakistan bound by the Constitution. You believe the Constitution is a joke and every day you betray your contempt for the Constitution. To save a dictator from a trial on treason, you kick up a hue and cry and label others traitors. I believe those who subvert the Constitution are the enemies of Pakistan.

You divide terrorists into “good” and “bad” to confuse the people. I believe in unveiling your deceit. You aim to further your personal interests by handing over the country’s bases to foreign powers, and you allow drone strikes on your own country and say your opportunism is patriotism. I believe such patriotism is a slight on the name of Pakistan. You want to fan a civil war. I believe in peace. You believe in stabbing people in the back. I believe in holding my head high and speaking the truth.

Agreed: You are powerful because you have guns and tanks. But I do not want to beg you for a certificate of patriotism. If Fatima Jinnah could be called a traitor–if Jalib, Bhutto, Faiz, Khan, Mengal, and Bugti were traitors–I accept being called a traitor.

I promise that if you have me declared a traitor by any court, or have a maulvi issue a fatwa for my death, I will not deny your accusation. Your charge will be a favor to me. Whether you hang me like Bhutto, or have me murdered like Bugti, I will not be stopped from speaking the truth.

I want to be murdered at your hands, so I can live on in history. The verdict of who is a traitor cannot be pronounced by a secret agency–but only by history.