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Gunmen Wound Pakistani TV Anchor In Weekend Shooting


Over the weekend, someone tried to kill the most famous television anchorman in Pakistan. Hamid Mir hosts a television show on politics on Pakistan's popular Geo News channel. He can be outspoken and confrontational. And now gunmen have confronted him and opened fire, wounding Hamid Mir as he was being driven from the airport to his office in the giant city of Karachi. NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this story. He's on the line. And Phil, first, who you explain who Hamid Mir is? A very distinctive figure.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Yes, Hamid Mir is an institution here. He's won a ton of awards. He was the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden after 9/11. He has an appetite for controversy, and that often lands him trouble. There's been an explosion in Pakistan of TV channels in the last few years - you know, competition for ratings very tough. But Mir's show, which is on the Urdu-language Geo News, has been going for years and it remains extremely popular.

INSKEEP: So he's doing the kind of thing that some popular cable television news hosts in the United States do where they're giving some news but it's really about their view of the world?

REEVES: Yes. He does often outline his opinion and he's upset a lot of big players by doing that in Pakistan's government, within the military, and also in the Taliban. He knew he was at risk, by the way. A while back he had a narrow escape when someone put a bomb under his car. It didn't go off, however.

INSKEEP: Now, we said that he was being driven from the airport to his office in the city of Karachi. This is one of the largest cities in the world. Was he on the main highway going out of the airport?

REEVES: Yes, he was. I mean you go out of the airport and there's a big highway that runs you into the center of the city. And he was on that highway when these motorcycles came up and there were guys on top of them, on the bikes, and they started firing at his car and apparently continued for quite a while.

INSKEEP: How did he get away?

REEVES: Well, he was driven by his driver to a hospital and there he remains. He's being treated for gunshot wounds at the moment and apparently, according to doctors, he's stable.

INSKEEP: Now, has anyone claimed responsibility for this attack?

REEVES: No. No one's yet claimed responsibility. But in Pakistan, when these things happen, there are usually three groups that are the center of speculation. One of them is the Taliban, one of them is the powerful intelligence service, the ISI, and also criminal gangs. All have attacked journalists here in the past. We know Mir has upset the Taliban. He condemned, for example, the Taliban for shooting the Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai. But he's also criticized the military and intelligence establishment for meddling in politics. And in his shows he's particularly highlighted the separatist insurgency that's been going on for years in Pakistan's largest and poorest province, Baluchistan. He's been looking at the issue of people who are missing there, people who human rights groups suspect have been killed or detained by the security services. But Steve, in this case, there's an unusual twist. After the attack on Mir, his brother came out and directly accused the intelligence agency, the ISI, or orchestrating it. The brother said that Mir had told the family that he had been getting threats and that if he was attacked, the ISI would be behind it.

INSKEEP: And we'll just remind people, the ISI, that's Pakistan's closest equivalent to the CIA, but they're also considered very politically powerful. What are they saying about this accusation they were involved, and not for the first time they've been so accused of hitting a journalist or trying to hit a journalist?

REEVES: Well, there's been a very angry response from the chief spokesman for Pakistan's military. The military is saying that, you know, this is a baseless allegation, there's no evidence for it. The chief spokesman's actually talking about suing GEO TV - that's Mir's channel.

INSKEEP: This is at least the second time in recent weeks that a prominent journalist in Pakistan has been targeted, shot at while in a car. In the other instance the journalist survived but the driver was killed. How is this affecting journalists in Pakistan?

REEVES: Well, it's really raised this issue yet again of the dangers facing journalists here. I mean the numbers are pretty alarming. In the last 10 years, more than 45 journalists have been killed here - more than half of those were targeted. And the issue was raised recently, actually. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists came over to Pakistan. They met with the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Sharif agreed to set up a commission on this. But you know, the problem here is impunity. There's only actually been one successful prosecution for the murder of a journalist in Pakistan, and that was very recently.

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Islamabad. Philip, thanks, as always.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.