As explosive stories go, there could be few to match this.
The Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP) blog, which advertises itself as "a project of Critical Supporters of Pakistan People's Party" has posted an alleged phone conversation between Geo TV's Hamid Mir and an unnamed person, said to be a member of the 'Punjabi Taliban' a.k.a. the Sipahe Sahaba lot. The conversation seems to have taken place a few days before Khalid Khwaja, the former ISI operative who had been abducted in March in the tribal area of Waziristan by a group calling itself 'Asian Tigers', was found killed, accused of being an American spy.
In the apparently secretly recorded phone conversation, the voice identified as Mir's, coaxes the person he is talking to - variously identified by others as someone close to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakeemullah Mehsud - to get Khwaja's abductors to interrogate him about his connections with the Americans, with the CIA and with Qadianis, who according to him, "are worse than even kaafirs (infidels)." In addition, he provides the person at the other end of the line with his assessment of Khwaja's (and Khwaja's wife's) betrayal of the Lal Masjid militants (about Mullah Ghazi he prays "Khuda unn ko jannat naseeb karay" ['May God admit him into paradise'], and even implies Khwaja's indirect connection with Israel.
You can download a copy of the conversation here. It is in a .AMR (mobile phone) format playable on Quicktime or RealPlayer.
Update: Thanks to Anon1112, here are the easily playable audio clips (one phone conversation, but line gets disconnected in the middle):
Since a transcript of the conversation is not yet available, you really will have to listen to the audio to draw your own conclusions. (I will try and post some translations later.) Update: Thanks to Codename Hijazi, here is the fairly professionally done transcript and translation of the conversation. Obviously one cannot verify the authenticity of this recording, but knowing Mir and the way he talks, I am, personally, quite convinced this is actually his voice. He also mentions certain bits of his personal history (such as his being the editor of daily Ausaf at one point and being sacked from it) that reinforce the credibility of this recording.
The question of how this conversation was recorded is perhaps more intriguing. Some commentators on the LUBP blog have claimed it was the unknown militant who himself recorded the conversation and later on took it to Mehsud, who used Mir's claims and questions to 'sentence' Khwaja. There is, of course, no way of knowing if this is true, but even if it is, it does not explain how LUBP got a hold of the recording. In fact, it could well be one of our intelligence agencies that recorded the conversation and have now leaked it. My guess would be the latter. Update: As Codename Hijazi has pointed out, the recording first made its appearance on a Facebook fan page titled 'Inter-Services Intelligence.' Given the professional transcript also provided, it becomes fairly obvious what the source of the recording is.
The LUBP blog post draws readers' attention to the following:
1. Hamid Mir’s views on terrorists of Lal Masjid (Ghazi brothers);
2. Hamid Mir’s worldview of Islam, Jihad and CIA;
3. His views on Khalid Khwaja;
4. His views on Qadianis
5. His views on
’s intelligence agencies Pakistan
6. His views on Javed Ibrahim Paracha, a notorious terrorist of Sipah-e-Sahaba in Kohat (also a leader of PML-N – does that ring a bell?)
7. What was Hamid Mir’s message to Khalid Khwaja’s kidnappers? Did that message lead to Khwaja’s murder?
8. What are Hamid Mir’s links with Hakimullah Mehsud and the Punjabi Taliban (Sipah-e-Sahaba)?
9. Why does Hamid Mir insist that Khalid Khwaja is not an ISI operative but a CIA operative?
10. Who are the real sponsors, protectors and promoters of Hamid Mir?
11. Is Hamid Mir a friend of
? or a friend of terrorists? Pakistan
Now, the other question one may ask is whether it's possible that Mir was simply cultivating his contacts with sources. We all know that journalists have sometimes to ingratiate themselves with dubious people who can provide them information. But you may want to ask yourself, how much information is Mir's 'source' actually sharing and how much of the conversation is the 'reporter' informing his 'source.' Certainly the reference to Qadianis is completely unprovoked, as is the insistence by Mir of what Khwaja should be interrogated about.
Keep in mind also that Hamid Mir published the following lengthy piece in The News, titled "What Was the Last Mission of Khalid Khwaja?", on May 2, two days after Khwaja's bullet-riddled body was found. In it he says:
"The spokesman for the Punjabi Taliban said that both Mr and Mrs Khalid Khwaja played an active role in Lal Masjid tragedy in July 2007. They forced late Abdul Rashid Ghazi not to surrender but disappeared when the operation started. Some friends of Khalid Khwaja, however, tell a different story. They say that Khwaja was arrested just a few days before the operation in Lal Masjid but they also admit that Khwaja was not supporting the surrender.
It is also learnt that Khalid Khwaja was investigated by a three-member committee of the militants for more than four weeks. Initially, Khwaja claimed that he had moved a petition in the Lahore High Court against the drone attacks along with former PML-N MNA Javed Ibrahim Paracha and he came to
North Waziristanfor recording the statements of drone victims to be produced in the court on April 6.
The militants confronted him as to why on the one hand he was opposing the drone attacks but on the other hand he was trying to establish contacts between the
and the Taliban. The militants claimed that he arranged a meeting between US Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes and a religious cleric Javed Ibrahim Paracha in 2005 in USA , Serena Hotel . They also produced some articles downloaded from the Internet and asked about his links with former CIA officials, James Woolsey and William Casey." Islamabad
Listen to the audio again. Almost all the points mentioned in the article are things Mir tells his source! It's nice to be able to quote yourself, isn't it?
At the very least, this is a very serious accusation against Mir that needs to be looked into by the authorities. If the recording is genuine, was Mir complicit in Khwaja's murder? Read LUBP's points / questions again. Hamid Mir and his employers (and there are obviously more than one) need to answer some very tough questions.
*** UPDATE ***
Hamid Mir and his acolytes have come out swinging against this damaging accusation, particularly after the Daily Times ran a front page story - that seems to have been based almost entirely on our post - with the transcript of the conversation included on the inside pages as well. He first posted his opinion on a journalists' mailing list and finally has given his side of the story publicly today in a piece in The News.
In his email response he writes:
Thank you very much for your support. Today publisher of Daily Times and Governor Punjab Salman Taseer created a new record in the history of yellow journalism by publishing a one sided tape drama scandle against me.I would like to remind my journalist colleagues that Salman Taseer published many dirty articles against me in the past when i was banned by Musharraf regime on tv.Today he published the transcript of a concocted tape with some comments on the front page of his newspaper.Yes he tried to kill many birds with one bullet.
This is a conspiracy against me.Khalid Khawaja was assassinated in the month of April and this tape surfaced in the middle of May just few days before some important political and leagal events.I am consulting with my lawyers and i will go into court against Salman Taseer for publishing a one sided concocted story against me.My hands are clear and i have no fear except Allah who have provided me a new opportunity to unmask some more realities in the court of law.
This fabricated tape is part of a bigger drama against journalist community.Some elements want to silence the voice of media on certain national issues by blackmailing journalists like me.These people are very unhappy on those journalists who are raising voice for missing people,who are opposing government stand NRO and who criticized the fake degree holder members of the parliament.Many journalists are disliked by the government and some parts of the establishment.These journalists may become a target one by one.Some government ministers warned me on May 13th that some elements are trying to use the family of Khalid Khawaja against me and journalists like Ansar Abbasi,Kamran Khan and Shahid Masood will also face some new cases.I am sure we will face these kind of fabricated cases with unity.Thanks again for showing solidarity with me.
Note that he does not answer any of the substantive issues regarding the recording, other than to off-handedly claim the recording as "fabricated." His claim that the recording is suspect because it has only surfaced two weeks after Khwaja was killed, is bizarre for a journalist to make.
In his response in The News he writes:
Grand Plot Against Media
Monday, May 17, 2010
By Hamid Mir
: Some elements in the federal government have hatched a grand conspiracy to malign and blackmail the Pakistani media and top of the list is the Jang Group of Newspapers and Geo TV. This grand conspiracy was noticed last Friday when a federal minister made allegations in the National Assembly and said that they have not paid huge amounts of sales tax. Most of the figures presented in the National Assembly were not correct. "ISLAMABAD
The same afternoon, a top government minister told this scribe that “enough is enough” and now they can teach a lesson to Jang Group any time. He claimed that it was only President Asif Ali Zardari who never allowed any “action” against you people otherwise the action would have started long ago. The minister was angry with Ansar Abbasi and Dr Shahid Masood. He claimed that the government had collected a lot of material against these two. Another minister told this scribe the same evening that President Zardari had given a green signal to launch a campaign against some journalists of the Jang Group, including Shaheen Sehbai, Ansar Abbasi, Dr Shahid Masood, Kamran Khan, Hamid Mir and some others. He said that Dr Shahid might be implicated in some forgery case.
Another minister revealed that some people within the establishment suggested to the government to use the family of late Khalid Khawaja against Hamid Mir on the basis of a tape. A top official of the interior ministry rejected this idea and said that these types of concocted tapes cannot be proven in a court of law but the same night some pro-PPP websites launched a campaign against me. The next day, a section of the media belonging to a close friend of President Zardari published a one-sided story with baseless allegations. A newspaper and a TV channel tried to involve me in the murder of Khalid Khwaja.
I will take legal action against all those who started this campaign but one thing must be clear. It is a conspiracy not only against me. The ultimate goal is to silence the voice of Pakistani media on certain issues. Was it a coincidence that PPP Secretary Information Fauzia Wahab addressed a press conference on Saturday against Ansar Abbasi and the next day a full-fledged campaign was launched against me in a section of the media belonging to Governor Punjab?
Many observers have noticed the timing of the campaign against the media men. Khalid Khwaja was assassinated at least two weeks ago but no tape about his murder surfaced anywhere. Fauzia Wahab had exchanged hot words with Ansar Abbasi many times in different talk shows but she issued him a notice only when some important political and legal events are going to take place in coming few weeks. The main objective is very clear. The PPP leadership wants to give a message to the whole media that if they do not behave, then this government will treat them like Pervez Musharraf did.
For some time, the government has been taking many actions to financially damage the Geo-Jang Group because this Group has refused to toe the official line. Similar tactics were used by the previous regime of dictator Musharraf. The democratic government was supposed to tolerate press freedom but this could not happen."
Of course, once again, it is termed a conspiracy to silence the media and in particular the Jang Group without going into the real accusations against himself. But some points from Hamid Mir's article need a comment.
1. It is interesting that Hamid Mir has laid this "conspiracy" at the door of the Pakistan Peoples Party, rather than where it seems to originate: the intelligence agencies. A few people have also pointed out the intelligence source as a reason to discount it. No doubt, one must take intel leaks with a pinch of salt. But whether PPP or the intelligence agencies are the source, the allegations need to be refuted, and if they are not in substantive terms, they would have to be accepted as fact. Indeed, the reasons for the intelligence operatives having turned against Mir - who has long been considered one of their men - may be complex but that does not affect the substance of the allegations against him as evidenced by this recording.
2. His claims that "these types of concocted tapes cannot be proven in a court of law" seem a bit premature and certainly not a little reminiscent of an earlier apoplectic commentator on this blog who said:
"...this stupid piece of evidence will not stand in any court of law anywhere in the world."Let's leave that to the courts to decide, if it comes to that, but it does indicate a bit of panic. The ISI fanboy's claims, also on this blog, that "they" are in touch with Mrs. Khalid Khwaja is, however, probably the reason for the panic. I would expect her to soon move the court with a petition to implicate Mir in her husband's murder. For Mr Mir's benefit, however, it is fairly easy for experts to judge whether a recording is tampered with or not.
3. Hamid Mir is at pains to point out the "timing" of the accusation against him coinciding with the government's bringing up the tax issue against the Jang Group (among other media groups) and Fauzia Wahab's (albeit flimsy) legal notice of defamation to Ansar Abbasi. He (and his fellow journos) should know about media timing. And he may well be right to a certain extent. However, as pointed out before, this does not mean that the tax issues and the seriousness of the accusations against him are negated. He (and the Jang Group) still have to answer. By using the bogey of a 'conspiracy against the media', how are they different from Asif Zardari who claims the allegations of corruption against him are simply a 'conspiracy against democracy'? Sometimes the shoe is on the other foot, is it not Mr Mir? And of course, both are not necessarily mutually exclusive points of view: you can have a conspiracy to undermine democracy at the same time as the allegations of corruption being true. Similarly, you can have a government campaign to make the media more compliant at the same time as serious allegations against the media being true.
4. Hamid Mir claims that part of the reason for the government's ire is his bringing up the issue of the fake degrees of Jamshed Dasti et al. We've done a number of stories harshly criticising Dasti et al and the government, but I can tell you one thing: in terms of seriousness, fake degrees are piddling compared to instigation to murder.