Journalists and civil society groups in Pakistan have taken to the streets to protest a shooting attack on one of the country’s best known television talk show hosts. International media groups say they are alarmed by the continuing violence directed at journalists in Pakistan.
The private Geo News channel’s prime time host, Hamid Mir, was ambushed and shot in Karachi on Saturday, as he traveled from the airport to the studio to conduct a live show. He was hit by several bullets but doctors say his condition has stabilized.
The channel’s Islamabad bureau chief, Rana Jawad, says Mir is still under critical observation in the hospital.
“He is out of danger, life threatening situation is over," said Jawad. "But it will be more than probably another 72 hours before one can really judge the extent of the damage that this shooting has caused.”
The 47-year-old Mir told police that his car was chased from the airport by unidentified men in a vehicle and motorcycles who then opened fire in a congested part of the road.
The attack has outraged journalists in Pakistan and on Sunday, they took to the streets of Islamabad to demand the government bring to justice those responsible.
The demonstrators vowed not to be coerced by such tactics and demanded the government ensure protection for journalists and press freedom in the country.
Mir has faced threats in the past as well. Police in 2012 found explosives under his car near his residence in Islamabad.
Mir’s family members blamed Pakistan's military spy agency ISI for orchestrating the shooting in response to his criticism of the powerful institution. But an army spokesman rejected the allegations, terming them “regrettable and misleading."
Separately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday announced creation of a judicial commission to probe the incident. The government has offered a reward of about $100,000 (10 million rupees) for information leading to the attackers.
But critics like Matiullah Jan, who hosts a talk show on another private Pakistani television channel, do not expect a productive outcome from the probe.
He says the military is too powerful an institution and political leaders remain reluctant to assert their constitutional control over it.
“Therefore any complaint against (the military) establishment is not taken seriously at times and in fact it becomes a point of political bargaining with the establishment forces for the political governments," said Jan. "Unless this imbalance between civil and military is resolved, unless the political governments are in complete control, I think it will be asking for the moon to ask the government to probe into attacks on journalists.”
Karachi, home to some 20 million people, has lately seen a dramatic increase in criminal, politically-motivated and militant violence. Many parts of the city are considered Taliban strongholds, while others are dominated by political parties through their armed wings.
Kidnappings for ransom happen almost daily. In the latest such incident, police on Saturday reported that two local staffers of the United Nations Childern’s Fund were abducted.
Critics of the military do not rule out the possibility of criminal involvement in the shooting of Hamid Mir and other attacks on journalists.