Sikandar wasn’t the real Blue Area villain, it was the media

Published: August 16, 2013

Sikandar Hayat stands and demands while Islamabad watches. PHOTO: ZAFAR ASLAM/EXPRESS

Yesterday, an armed man entered Islamabad’s Red Zone with his wife and two kids. He opened fire on police and later, kept the forces occupied, demanding the overthrow of the current government and implementation of Islami Nizam (Shariah law) in Pakistan. Clearly, such behaviour cannot be a product of a sound mind. Cases of lunacy such as this are not a new phenomenon either.

Considering the triviality of such incidents, we hardly get to see them making breaking news and headlines unless of course they involve exceptions such as the Heaven’s Gate cult by Marshall Applewhite or more recently the Dark Knight Rises shooting by James Holmes – both of which led to mass suicide and killing. However, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to Pakistani news media; yesterday an armed man and police officials kept all the local news channels busy for at least six hours last night in a classic case of much ado about nothing.

In the quest of breaking news before any other channel, even the basic facts pertaining to this man were not substantiated. Despite making claims about the man’s home address, past record and fake number plates, there seemed little consensus on his very name by two anchorpersons on the same news bulletin; while one kept mentioning him as Sikandar Khan, his colleague repeatedly called him Sikandar Malik!

More names like Sikandar Hayat and Muhammad Sikandar have been floating about too leaving his real name to remain a mystery.

Many channels featured headlines stating that the man had held the entire city hostage, leaving the police helpless and the citizens horror-struck. Ostensibly, these were all misstatements. If the residents were so scared, we would not have seen people gathering around to witness the drama live.

While the reporters on scene kept mentioning how these people were interfering in letting the police do their job, little did these naïve journalists seem to realise that they were doing exactly the same with their crew. This was evident when Sikandar’s wife Kanwal, on police instructions, refused to reveal the suggested location of negotiation to the media.

The couple’s negotiation with police, however, may not have been of much interest to one of the channels as its anchorperson went overboard to make a live call to Kanwal. There’s a fine line between the jobs of police and journalists, but the concerned host seemed to have little idea about this despite his years of journalistic experience in Pakistan. In a call, that lasted more than 10 minutes, he talked to the husband and wife, convincing them to leave the kids in police’s custody, unveil their demands and come to a common ground. Later, on his own show, his actions were condemned by some other ethically responsible journalists like Talat Hussain, who made his discontent with the media coverage clear even on Twitter.

Then came the epic moment when PPP’s representative Zamarud Khan encountered the armed man, bringing the whole episode of sheer sensationalism to a close.

And we thought the show was over, but soon many channels started capitalising on even more trivial details. There was one report discussing the personal details of Zamarud’s life and his love for his children. Another one talked about the innocence of the armed man’s children and the potential trauma they could be going through in the future. Later reports focused on the physical condition of the couple admitted in PIMS hospital.

Earlier, there were reports featuring a picture of Kanwal’s wedding and videos of a place which was claimed to be Sikandar’s house in Haffizabad.

Clearly, we have no boundaries between what is personal and what isn’t.

More than informing the viewers, all this coverage reflected the incompetence of Pakistan’s news media.

Unsubstantiated assumptions about the man’s background and mental condition, trivial reports giving out details of his house, violation of individual’s privacy by showing personal pictures of the wife, overtaking the role of police while not giving it enough space to perform and later blaming them for their incompetence, pointless reports to keep the news running – all these elements only reinforced Henry Graham Greene’s belief that, “media is a word that has come to mean bad journalism.”

But with all these features of infotainment, I’m sure these channels managed to live up to their desperation of keeping more and more people glued to the screens for as long as they could.

Do you approve or disapprove of the media coverage of the Islamabad standoff?

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Farwa Zahra

Farwa Zahra is a Qatar-based journalist. She has studied Gender and Media at the London School of Economics. She tweets as @syedaz (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abidi

    This is all because of TRP. The higher it is, the more money you get. They will continue doing this even if it means to cross the line between professional and personal. And believe it or not, people are equally interested in knowing all that. Recommend

  • CH. ZEE

    After watching the stupid & improper coverage, one must say Pakistani media please raise your standard & u need to be dictated what’s to broadcast & what’s not. A WAKE UP CALL FOR PEMRA. Recommend

  • Muhammad Ishfaq

    Couldn’t agree more… You know what Mahatma Gandhi once said??
    “I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers”.
    He could really look far, far ahead of his times.Recommend

  • safeer ahmad

    As usual the media have been silenced or caught sleeping, rather they should realise they know nothing of what is going on in the country. If they do they should have the courage – a prerequisite for media-MEN – not to treat the nation like DONKEYS.

    Pakistanis may not be ‘educated’ but quite a few are not idiots. Recommend

  • Bilal

    Our Media is equally responsible for all the outrages in country as other terrorist organizations are. they are responsible for everything these days including making these terrorists Hero and encouraging them that with small act they will be heard loud.same is our parliaments for not making the terrorism act passed from parliaments.Recommend

  • hali

    Mahatma Gandhi once said??

    “I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers”. Our media is taking this country to wrong side.Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Asif Sakhi

    Indeed, Media is playing a vital role in our society but there is a need of law for them too. You can not go in someone’s bad room for cove raging news . I was observing this satiation from the begging when Sikandar opened his first fire till the end and meanwhile i was thinking what sort of image we are giving to others through media . Media should give soft image to others of this Pak land.Recommend

  • Nadir

    Under not circumstance is a person who uses his children as human shields and resorts to firing sporadically less of a villain as compared to the media, why even make the comparison? There is no need to equate the two, neither is there any comparison.Recommend

  • Sindhi Pakistani

    Lady do you honestly believe that a person who was carrying assault weapons and held a part of the capital of Pakistan hostage was not the real villain?Recommend

  • DS N

    You simply do not allow the whole world to watch while you shoot a man in the leg and then proceed to shoot him in his lower chest after he surrendered, followed by a senseless beating to the head. Nothing can justify showing a bleeding,collapsing man and playing patriotic songs in the background while showing his crying children. It was disturbing to the core. Recommend

  • Farooq

    Brilliant piece madam. I endorse each and every word of yours. Its time our media starts acting responsibly and also the government should develop proper protocols to deal with such situations.Recommend

  • AB

    Excellent article.Exactly my sentiments.Recommend

  • umair

    Well, i think if there is no media coverage , operation would have ended pretty soon, as every one is watching on TV , so officials whether police or anyone they think , think and think what to do ? if any thing goes wrong what will happen as whole nation is watching.

    Zamurd khan is a hero , i dont think so , he did the same what police was avoiding, if it had to end like this police might have done it even earlier.
    end of the drama
    Sikandar got shot even his wife got shot, police might have ended in a better way
    2nd : had Law enforcement agenices evacuated general public from site , it would have ended even more earlier and a better wayRecommend

  • Fahad Hafeez

    Really sad how the whole episode was played out , the guy was making his views heard and was not a threat as he was communicating with the police and let him self heard these could have been delt in a very peaceful maner than shooting the guy ! it barbaric and to see how much our viewers liked the idea of him getting shot was disturbing ! he was making his voice heard.

    and media what can we say about them He was drinking red bull and they said he is drinking liquor, media needs to find out good news and each channel need to find their own news , and Pakistani viewers need to close the TV sets for few hours every day !Recommend

  • Concerned Pakistani

    It was a disgrace to say the least. The man hardly took anyone hostage contrary to what the media is used to portraying. They did not allow the police to do their job and politicians like zamarud khan interfered for no reason, just to cause the man to be shot at. I mean, If Sikandar really wanted to harm anyone, he would have easily killed zamarud Khan who fled. He sure did not want to attack anyone, all he was trying to do was express his disturbed views which the police were taking care of professionally.

    However, the media has lost all of its professional ethics. The police were supposed to be doing those negotiations and the various TV channels telephoning the person separately diverting his attention towards an unsure direction. It pathetic!

    Just do not call zamarud a hero please, nothing heroic came from his end which just resulted in sikandar now fighting for his life. He got someone who spared his life by not shooting at him despite being in position to do so, shot at because of his inappropriate and unauthorized actions.Recommend

  • miss hameed

    well, they did cross the line here and there, like showing his personal wedding pics and entering his bedroom but then these things are bound to mistake leads to another…..chain of reactions an yes, the reality of our police,security and government was revealed no doubt.our society should be exposed to this kind of was indeed a set up.Recommend

  • Spigot !

    Why do you assume that we have saints sitting in media and would understand the pros and cons of their actions just like that ?

    Media personnel, especially news personnel, are like parasites and they feed onto this kind of stuff let it be Pakistan, Germany or any other country. They always do this in all ways. As much as it is wrong to much extent, it’s “Beyond Foolish” to expect that they would do “whats wright” instead of fighting for their ratings. It’s a competitive market in Pakistan and like I said before, these vultures would do anything and everything to get a story out and to get people hooked to their screens for no Effing reason.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Great bit of writing.
    We are a people who during Ramzan can sit for hours and watch the circus of Aamir Liaquat…………….so realy the blame should be shared.

    On Facebook a friend wrote : Just when you think it can’t get more ridiculous it actually does. Sikandar on Red Bull + television channels = tamasha I don’t care to watch….brilliant.

  • Kanzeon

    The media sort of glorified a demented psychopath who used his spouse and children as a shield. It is not the first time that media has plummeted to dismal depths in dealing with calamities, accidents and fanaticism.Recommend

  • Raja Feroze

    Its difficult for the police to get their hands on a real terrorist or to catch one, so thought why not play along with this guy. might as well be fun to watch for others. Recommend

  • miss hameed

    well, they did cross the line here and there, like showing his personal wedding pics and entering his bedroom but then these things are bound to mistake leads to another…..chain of reactions and yes, the reality of our police,security and government was revealed no doubt.our society should be exposed to the reality of the people who are responsible for our safety and security.Recommend

  • Asghar

    Agree with you completely. It was shameful how the media behaved. Especially the channel anchor persons talking to the guy on the phone. Each channel made a phone call and I couldn’t believe his phone wasn’t jammed. Then the reporters on the scene were telling on Live television what possibly the police was planning to do without thinking for a second that maybe the guy’s relatives could tell him all that on the phone. Unbelievable!

    And with all due respect I don’t agree that what Mr. Zamarud did was right. He was lucky he got away with it. He did not plan the act with the police beforehand and went right ahead and did it. There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Not too sure on which side Mr. Zamarud is on. Recommend

  • Sharim

    I totally agree to your perspective Farwah Zahra. The whole media doesn’t even think about the impression of Pakistan that they are portraying to the whole world. Mr. Zamarud did an idiotic act and endangered his life as well as the lives of families gathered there to see the drama yet our confused nation makes a hero out of him. A bravery without sense is of no use. In fact i would say that had Zamarud khan not done that senseless act things might have ended in a better way(thru negotiations).
    This incident is a classic example of how a simple incident turns into a political stunt & above all how our nation enjoy such dramas!Recommend

  • 007

    Am amazed how did you manage to follow this entire drama on all channels. And then you go on to criticize the very same channels that helped you gather all the info for this blog. Bravo!Recommend

  • Hardliner

    Couldn’t agree more!! At first…… the media blamed the police for not using snipers and sharp shooters for finishing the man………..then there was a classic U-turn in their opinion over actions/strategy of Islamabad police……….. everybody started praising the police officials of not killing the man………..! i witnessed this dual standard policy with my own eyes last night………….

    and yes, Talat Hussain proves again of being the most sensible and mature media man in the whole industry……….. that was the most stupid action of Mr. Javed Chaudhary to call Sikandar’s wife and start negotiating himself… (a role in which he, by any means, does not fit in)Recommend

  • http://karachi sohail khan

    ” to make a mole a hill ” is the work of our media … so poor standards.Recommend

  • Maryam

    totally agree with you and Talat Hussain. Media was the villian,
    Media blowed the situation out of propotion Recommend

  • 007

    Just a few more lines about yesterday’s high profile drama written, directed, performed and produced by a mentally deranged idiot…

    The guy had taken his own family as hostage and our police & interior minister dealt it as if he had hijacked an airplane or a school bus with 40 innocent kids! Imagine what may happen if God forbid a group of properly trained people storm into a school!
    There were plenty of opportunities when the guy could have been tackled by somebody properly trained to disarm such an idiot. Am sure it was doable.
    That SSP shouldn’t have gone to him without a bullet-proof jacket or adequate protection. The SSP is a far more valuable Human Capital than that ^#&*#@ and his equally stupid wife.
    Doesn’t our police have some sharp shooters who could aim for his legs and bring him down when he was roaming around like a drunk target or when he went behind bushes for much needed Pishi?!
    Even when they were capturing, most of the policemen who approached this armed & dangerous insane man were without bullet-proof jackets!
    One of the policemen started slapping the injured idiot; anybody can slap a guy who’s received bullets in his leg and abdomen. Not very macho of you, Mr Police Wala!
    What was the point of ensuring that this man is captured alive? Was he a known high value terrorist who could lead to disbanding some terrorist network? No!
    Whenever there is a serious crisis, be it earthquake, floods, train accident, plane crash or a bomb blast; we depend on Army. Were the police and concerned authorities looking for Army to come and tackle this One Man Show? Please!!!
    Zamarrud Khan has been hailed as a hero; yet there are people who believe that he crossed the thin line between stupidity & bravery. Yes he might have done that; but his calculated risk (?) and that man’s poor shooting skills helped draw curtains on this epic road theatre. Nobody else was man enough to tackle this psychopath.
    I hope our police learns some lessons from this incident before the potential terrorists learn a few things about the opportunities available to them!

  • Insaan

    @DS N: “shoot him in his lower chest after he surrendered, followed by a senseless beating to the head”

    Who ever shot the guy in lower chest after gunman surrendered should be charged with attempted murder. This guy just wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic country. Most Pakistanis thinking, people not following Islam is the real problem for Pakistan.Recommend

  • Amjad

    One lunatic can paralyze the whole nation!! Security agencies and media response once again laughable!!!
    The news media and our ever vigilant security agencies has showed the nation that if you are dissatisfied with your life,unhappy with your inlaws, bothered by your neighbour’s aggressive dog, disgruntled with your boss or displeased with current political or electoral system you don’t have to join TTP or any kind of “Lashkar” . You can start your struggle from the privacy and comfort of your own home or car.
    All you need is couple of guns, your lunch bag, your favorite snacks and few cans of Redbull to keep your energy level high. And don’t forget your cell phone and charger because you have to talk to long list of media outlets and discuss your grievances in detail so the whole nation can find out the underlying causes of your aggression. And also try to call TV channels at prime time and have long rambling discussions with newscasters, this will protect you from prying eyes of sniper shooters(Like in Bollywood, Lollywood movies they won’t shoot until your song ends).
    By the end nation finds two new Heroes to worship…Zumard Khan breathes new life into lifeless PPP, and religious lunatics have Sikander-e-Hafizabad ” LOLRecommend

  • Zainab

    It truly was a much ado about nothing … Showing Pakistan’s police and media in worst light …. Much drama about nothing seems more appropriate! Recommend


    This drama is all to deter a revolution! Authorities are scared of Dr Tahir ul Qadri who recently announced a new campaign against corruption and woes to unite masses against corruption. They are scared of his movement gaining momentum and starting to become a populist movement. There is only one voice left throughout the nation and all disappointed and fed up can only see Dr. Qadri as the only Messiah! Revolution is eminent! Govermnent is preparing to deter and eventually confront it!Recommend

  • Muhibullah

    I agree that the media were the real villains of the story. It was sickening how most of the channels were trying to goad the authorities into killing that poor crazy guy with their taunts against the police when it was obvious that the police could have shot him at any time, they were not doing so for humanitarian reasons.

    The real hero of this story, even more than Zamrud khan, is the interior minister Chaudhary Nisar who ordered that the police should try their best to ensure no one is killed. Recommend

  • SMA

    This was a one-off episode of a drama propogated by one lay person in the capital of the country and it took 6 hrs to resolve – I shudder to think what will happen if trained terrorists were ever to attack…… Recommend

  • Fried eggs

    Very shameful behaviour by mediaRecommend

  • I am Khan

    I agree that media coverage of the whole situation was very unprofessional to say the least but I am completely amazed at the sympathy towards the the man expressed in this blog and in some of the comments. How is an armed man standing on the middle of the road not a threat? Knowing the growing number of fanatics in our country, do we seriously believe that there was no possibility of him blowing himself up or shooting? And if we do think that poor guy was just a lunatic, once again how do we know for sure he won’t harm any one? Be that his own family. Recommend

  • Shah

    Media wasn’t the villain….it was that idiot standing there in the middle of the road with gun. Once again the logic of our nation baffles me…ignore the obvious.

    Police and law enforcement agencies were totally incompetent. They should have brought him down, a shot to his knees of something and taken control of the situation after negotiations did not go anywhere. In fact I don’t even see a point in negotiating once it was obvious he did not take his family as hostage. He was a person with a gun in his hand, threatening people around him, firing shots at them. He should have been taken down at the first instance. Of course now we know our esteemed Minister had asked for him to be taken alive, given the soft corner PML-N has towards terrorist this was an understandable.

    Not to mention all the idiots standing around there for hours….watching the tamasha unfold. They should have gone away from there, away from harm’s way.Recommend

  • Unknown

    Sikandar was body guard of zardari in Dubai. His son got caught in Dubai and zardari refused to help him out. This results in to this whole drama.Recommend

  • Fiz

    It would have been appropriate to ask “who is a lesser villain, Sikindar or Media?”. I think both behaved as if they were out of their elements (senses).Recommend

  • Kashif Ajmal Malik

    It is natural for newly born media. Overall a sense is missing about everything in Pakistan including Policing, information circulation, developing social maturity, but happy to know at least policed saved all the lives where much could easily go wrong with foolish onlookers, no condoning off the area and approach of media to that close. Recommend

  • Insaan

    @miss hameed:” well, they did cross the line here and there, like showing his personal wedding pics and entering his bedroom but then these things are bound to mistake leads to another…..chain of reactions”

    Some one should have tried to find if this man has mental problems or is a drug user.
    Sikander did not look like some one out to harm others. Even crowd gathered close to him, because he did not threaten any one. Recommend

  • gp65

    @DS N: “You simply do not allow the whole world to watch while you shoot a man in the leg and then proceed to shoot him in his lower chest after he surrendered, followed by a senseless beating to the head. Nothing can justify showing a bleeding,collapsing man and playing patriotic songs in the background while showing his crying children. It was disturbing to the core. ”

    I agree with you that what media did was not correct. But if media did not show it, would it have made the act of shooting a man in legs AFTER he has raised his hands and then shooting him in the stomach after he had surrended and punching him black and blue have been okay if it was not shown on the media?

    @Author : After the coverage of 26/11, guidelines were drawn about coverage of terrorist events in India. Hopefully something along those lines will happen in Pakistan also. Still you cannot compare the irresponsibility of the media with the irreponsibility of a man who used his kids as a human shield, who ignored polic command to lay down his gun and kept on waving his kalashnikovs and randomly firing also.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    I didn’t follow the news much on this. I feel like the issues are many and deep that highlights the problems of Pak society overall, and not just restricted to the media and its horrible practices, which still pales in comparison to an actual gunman with his wife and kids shooting randomly in the middle of the capital city.

    Everything from gun culture (not a single word about the man’s ability to acquire such machine guns apparently) and gun control, to security and police tactics (including negotiations, cooperation from the media, etc), to public safety (bystanders standing in full view, media arguing with police, politician taking a risk), to mental health including possible spousal and child abuse and other public services, etc.

    Anyways it seems like somebody took the villain rhetoric against the media, ironically posted in the media, to heart and decided to attack the media, specifically the Express media offices, injuring two employees, one critically…and no, I’m not seriously suggesting this blog has lead to such mindless violence, just pointing out the coincidence.

  • shahida kazi

    Sure blame the media for everything.Close your eyes to everything wrong that is happening in the country.Be only concerned about Pakistans image in foreign countries In other words,follow the three monkeys and hide your face in the sand.And sing All is Well.Recommend

  • Raja Feroze

    @shahida kazi:

    We should be Concerned ONLY about Pakistan’s image, because by doing so and being actually concerned would bring change and open our eyes to whatever wrong is happening around us.Recommend

  • Gingo

    Someone should’ve seen Asma Shirazi’s horrified expression when the gunman called in on her program from a cellphone provided by her program team to him and said that he wanted ‘Hussain ki shariat’ to be implemented. That cracked me up.Recommend

  • Sane

    Acting foolishly Zummurad Khan eying to get bravery award . How ridiculous?!!Recommend

  • Sane

    This epic drama solicits an inquiry as he could be an implanted agent to tarnish the image of Pakistan.Recommend

  • mind control

    Sikandar wasn’t the real Blue Area villain, it was the media

    Phew! Media?

    I can breathe easy now.

    For a moment I thought you had spotted the ever present Yahood/ Hanood/ Nasra Conspiracy.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Sane: … implanted agent to tarnish the image of Pakistan.
    I thought I had heard it all……..but apparently not.

  • Fatema

    Well-written! Recommend

  • Fatima

    This was all done to raise respect for the so called ”hero ” i.e Peoples’ party. However we , the pakistani, cannot forget the creulsome behaviour they have done in last five years . If they were brave enough, then why didnt they fight against terrorist or people who are showing the Islam in bad ways.PPP cannot win our hearts by creating this fake ”Drama”. They are caring for the children of sikander that what their minds went through. arent they cared about the teacher who died (shaheed, may GOD bless her soul) in bus accident while rescuing her students…arent they caring about the children who havent eaten since few days due to their houses been demolished due to India openiing the dam water to Pakistan. why no politician go there and help them with basic needs of food and hygiene. First go there and then we will accept you as heroes!!! Shame on you Politicians!Recommend

  • Fatima

    @CH. ZEE:
    I saw Kashif Abbasi’s programme after this sikander event and he said that he was also covering this incident and he said that he himself was scared that what will happen next. and he said that when he saw the Officer talking to the wife and sikander , he was at awe that how ”brave” that person was . Total drama of Kashif Abbasi ! the media was involved but wants to fool the minds of the people. SHAMEFUL ACT!!!
    the rangers who are trained for these purposes were present there and jokingly they couldn’t handle the situation and a person , untrained , for this handled this and got bravery title (zamarud from peoples’ party)!
    What a shame..these rangers should be on the LOC ( LINE OF CONTROL) handling INDIA who is making our army Shaheed for no reasons and our politicians have informed the army to be defensive and let India do what they want to . Our politicians have sold their gairat and integrity.
    Wake up Pakistan!Recommend

  • csmann

    “case of much ado about nothing.”—–Talk of an understatement.A man in a public place,and a sensitive one at that,with two machine-guns has no privacy. The society needs to know the details about him/her.If media was not there,it would have been suppressed,and there would have been no inquiries.Just as people were curious about it in the city,so were people outside,and media knows it. They have to report it, and they did.Recommend

  • ruqyiashehzadi

    plz stop all these crimes and take strong action against sikandar how he spread this terrorim in pakistan Recommend

  • Uzma Mazhar

    Another example of the media playing games… just look at the title of this piece… it is not one or the other… both are villains, both played with the emotions of the nation, both do not really respect & honor the country, both should be reprimanded and punished.Recommend

  • danny boy

    @sane: 2 things

    1- as if pakistan has a very good image to tarnish in the first place

    2- how does this tarnish the image exactly, when its just one individual high on redbull on his own?Recommend

  • Shahid Hamid

    A totally mishandled drama in the most unprofessional way. Recommend

  • Sane

    @danny boy:

    Pakistan is acting as savior to the region and the world as whole, by fighting with those terrorists who are sent by neighboring countries, labeling themselves as Pakistani. Soon the facts shall be revealed as Indian drama of Attack on Indian Parliament, Bombay Attacks and other incidents have been revealed.

    Pakistan is taking brunt to save world from global terrorists.Recommend