Veteran Pakistani journalist Shiraz Paracha has very kindly written the following note in appreciation of LUBP.
Over his long experience as a professional journalist, Mr Paracha has contributed hundreds of news reports, analytical articles and opinion pieces on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia for a variety of media outlets around the world. He has an extensive background in media and management, working with teams of journalists and researchers all over the world.
Mr Paracha has also written an exclusive article (provided below) highlighting the sinister agenda of Pakistan’s ISI and certain elements in Pakistani media whose analyses and reports on Taliban and Afghanistan are tightly in line with their masters’ voice in the ISI.
Dear members of LUPB,
You are doing a wonderful job. Traditional media monopolies must be broken. I would like to share with your readers some information that may help understand the present role and character of some Pakistani journalists.
His masters’ voice: Hamid Mir, Taliban and the ISI
I was a journalist in Pakistan between 1986 and 1998. Also, in the 1990s, I hosted and managed a talk show, ‘Awami Forum’ that was produced at PTV Peshawar studios. Once I invited Hamid Mir on our show, it was probably his first appearance on such a TV program. He was not very confident and said something that surprised the other guests on the Show.
Hamid Mir and I worked together at Akber Ali Bhatti’s daily Pakistan. It was I who recommended Hamid to Mr. Bhatti because I was impressed with the writings of Professor Waris Mir, the father of Hamid Mir. I thought that Hamid was a progressive and balanced minded person and it would be good to bring him to daily Pakistan that was emerging as a popular newspaper in Pakistan. At that time, Hamid was working at daily Jang Lahore and he had done some good stories.
When Hamid joined us at daily Pakistan, I was in Peshawar and was responsible for the coverage of NWFP, tribal regions and Afghanistan. I had started covering Afghanistan in 1986. I knew the country, its culture, its people and their language. Hamid Mir had no clue about Afghanistan because he did not cover the conflict.
In 1993, when Benazir Bhutto became the prime minister for the second time, I tried put her in contact with Ahmed Shah Masood, the then defense minister of Afghanistan and a key figure in Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance. The then Afghan government was lead by Professor Burhan-u-Deen Rabbani of the Jamiat-i-Islami (Different than the Pakistani Jamat-i-Islami) but Commander Ahmad Shah Masood was the decision maker in that government. Another Afghan commander Jamit-ullha Jalal was my friend and he was living in Pakistan. Commander Jalal was a close associate of Mr. Masood and through Jalal I got acquainted with Commander Masood.
After the new government was installed in Islamabad, Commander Jalal spoke to Ahmad Shah Masood on a satellite phone and discussed with him the idea of establishing friendly relations with the new elected government of Pakistan. Masood liked the idea and invited Commander Jalal to Kabul. Jalal and I went to Kabul and met Masood. After some discussions we agreed that Masood would send a goodwill message to Prime Minister Bhutto. Upon our return to Pakistan, we sat at Professor Iqbal Tajik’s home at Peshawar University and drafted a letter in English language on the behalf of Ahmad Shah Masood. The letter was delivered to the Prime Minister by a special person (I do not want to disclose his name).
Ms. Bhutto was happy to receive Ahmad Shah Masood’s message and she invited him to Pakistan. Mr. Masood agreed to visit Pakistan but on the condition that he would not meet the ISI or army generals. He wanted to meet the civilian leadership of Pakistan.
The ISI was staunchly against Ahmad Shah Masood and since Zia-ul-Haq time our spy agency was supporting Hezeb-i-Islami of Gulbadin Hykmatyar, who was a close ally of Pakistan’s Jamat-e-Islami. Before his visit, Ahmad Shah Masood sent his close associate Dr. Abdul Rahman to Pakistan to discuss the details of the proposed visit. It was a huge breakthrough but the ISI and its stooges were not happy. For years, the ISI and army had supported and protected people such Gulbadin Hykmatyar, Abdul Rub Rasool Sayaf, Molvi Yunis Khalis and other extremists. Jamat-e-Islami and ISI were together in pushing a dangerous and disastrous agenda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Generals like Hamid Gul and others had the ideological support of Qazi Hussein Ahmad of Jamat-I-Islami. In fact, the ISI supported Qazi Hussein Ahmed as the Jamat-i-Islami Ameer because he was a Pushtoon and so was Hykmetyar. Both of them were fundamentalists and therefore ideological allies of the ISI. Generals and the Jamat-i-Islami also got support from the media, especially the Urdu media of Pakistan. The Jang group is still dominated by Jamat-i-Islami activists who disguise as journalists. In my view, the ISI, the Jamat-i-Islami and the Urdu journalists are founders of terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
When Ahmad Shah Masood’s representative Dr. Abdul Rahman came to Pakistan in 1994, elements in the ISI and the media were furious over the bridge building efforts between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance. Dr. Rahman was offered money and weapons at a meeting in Islamabad. He refused the offer and said:” We want to be your friends not puppets”. Dr. Rahman returned to Kabul. The mission failed. After that threats and dirty tricks were used to spoil any possibility of friendly relations between Pakistan and the Northern Alliance. A bus full of school children was high-jacked from Peshawar and was driven to Islamabad. The ISI and its puppets in the media blamed Ahmad Shah Masood for the act. Later the Pakistan embassy in Kabul was attacked. The ISI, Hykmatyar and Jamat-e-Islami, and elements in the Pakistani media, particularly the Jang and News group again blamed Ahmad Shah Masood and India. Masood was angry and he told commander Jalal to leave Pakistan. He said: “I told you before not to trust them”.
But playing foul the ISI and their supporters deprived Pakistan from moving towards peace. A golden opportunity was missed because of the adventurism of the some. A meeting between Masood and Benazir Bhutto could have changed the whole situation in the region. The disastrous events that followed could have been avoided.
I was present at a meeting in Peshawar where General Naseer-ullha-Babar and Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former chief secretary of NWFP and a God Father of the jihidis, had misled Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto about the situation in Afghanistan. The then Chief Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao was also present at the briefing and I could see that he was not comfortable with what was discussed. General Babar seemed to have a mission.
Soon the Taliban emerged in Baluchistan. In 1994 with emergence of the Taliban Hamid Mir started writing on Afghanistan in our newspaper. At that time, I was regularly writing about the Taliban. Hamid Mir called me several times and warned me not to criticize the Taliban and to stop writing about Afghanistan. He told me that secret services were upset that I (Shiraz) was opposing the Taliban project and that writing against the Taliban was not in Pakistan’s interest. I disagreed with him. Hamid wanted to promote the Taliban but it was not possible as long as I was there. I received threats from different sides. Interestingly, during those days my friend and NWFP minister Syed Qamar Abbas was member of a media foundation that was established by Ms. Bhutto’s government. One day Qamar Abbas told me that the foundation was giving apartments to journalists in Islamabad. He said he would recommend that Hamid Mir be given an apartment. In 1997 Qamar Abbas was wrongly accused in the accidental death of Haji Gulam Ahmed Baliour’s son and in one of his articles Hamid Mir called Qamar Abbas a murderer.
In 1997, my friend Jamiat-ullha-Jalal disappeared from his home in Peshawar. We tried our best to find him but one ISI officer in Peshawar told us to forget about Jalal. I was still receiving threats from the Taliban and Hamid kept the pressure on me by then he was the editor of daily Pakistan Islamabad. Eventually, Hamid had to leave the newspaper. He joined daily Ausaf Islamabad and continued his jihad from there. However, I still faced difficulties and in 1998, I left for London. Between 1999 and 2007, I held several long conversations with Mothermma Benazir Bhutto in London on the issue of Afghanistan. She understood who played what role in the promotion of Afghanistan.