Rights vs wrongs
Army shows ire at the Human Rights Watch report which criticised the judicial commission’s findings on the murder of Saleem Shahzad
By Amir Mir
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) continues to face the rage of national and international human rights and media groups. The Judicial Commission investigating the May 2011 assassination of a senior journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, recommended in its inquiry report that the ISI must deflate its larger-than-life image, focus on its mandated job and evolve a transparent policy in its liaison with the media.
The commission, however, failed to get to the bottom of the murder, prompting the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to state that the failure of the commission to identify culprits in Shahzad’s murder illustrates the ability of the ISI to remain beyond the reach of Pakistani criminal justice system. Observing that the Judicial Commission appeared fearful of confronting the ISI, the HRW demanded that the Pakistan government should take every possible step to identify the culprits. The five-member commission, headed by Justice Saqib Nisar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and tasked with examining the murder and identifying his killers, said in its report that it does not have the evidence required to fix responsibility for the killing.
Having investigated for six months the murder of the journalist who authored ‘Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11’ (Pluto Press 2011), the Judicial Commission stated on page 96 of its report: “The commission is convinced that there are sufficient reasons to believe that the intelligence agencies, including the ISI, have been using coercive and intimidating tactics in dealing with those journalists who antagonise the interest of the Agency and this needs to be deprecated in strongest terms”.
However, Brad Adams, Asia Director of HRW, expressed disappointment over the commission’s failure to identify Shahzad’s killers, adding that the slain journalist had made it clear to the Human Rights Watch that should he be killed, the ISI should be considered the principal suspect. Adams said on January 30 through a press release: “Saleem Shahzad had not indicated he was afraid of being killed by militant groups or anybody else. [Thus], the [Pakistan] government still has the responsibility to identify those responsible for his death and hold them accountable, no matter where the evidence leads.”
Brad Adams added: “At great personal risk, scores of journalists, human rights activists, and others presented themselves before the Judicial Commission to offer accounts of the ISI and military’s involvement in human rights abuses. The commission repaid this courage by muddying the waters and suggesting that just about anyone could have killed [Saleem] Shahzad. The ISI abuses will only stop if it is subject to the rule of law, civilian oversight, and public accountability. It is the government’s duty to insist on such accountability and the military’s duty to submit to it. The ISI needs to stop acting as a state within a state. We have extensively documented the ISI’s alleged intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances, and killings of many journalists, and fears that the [judicial] commission’s failure in naming a culprit hints back to the ISI’s stronghold over the country’s judicial system.”
However, the media organ of the Pakistan armed forces (Inter-Services Public Relations) reacted angrily as usual 20 days after the HRW statement was issued, saying the HRW appears to have seriously jeopardised the bipartisan and objective nature of its work and it will be in fitness of things to expect the HRW to withdraw the biased statement. The ISPR spokesman said in a February 19 statement that in one stroke, Brad Adams discredited the Judicial Commission that investigated Shahzad’s murder, demonised the ISI and castigated the government, going on to suggest a darker destination of evidence if pursued again. Stating that Adams may had his head buried deep in sand and that the HRW might be choking under heaps of bias, the ISPR spokesman concluded that the allegations levelled against the ISI are simply baseless and untenable both by evidence and logic.
But Saleem Shahzad’s friends and colleagues keep pointing the finger of suspicion at the ISI, reminding that some senior officials of the Agency had warned him thrice prior to his abduction and subsequent murder that he was under serious threat due to his writings. The truth is that Shahzad was abducted and severely tortured to death before being dumped alongside a canal. His post-mortem report found the journalist had at least 17 wounds, including deep gashes… “The ribs from the left and right sides seemed to have been hit with violent force, using a blunt object. The broken ribs pierced Shahzad’s lungs, apparently causing the death.”
Therefore, the million-dollar question remains: who killed Saleem Shahzad and why? While the ISI had maintained before the Judicial Commission that Shahzad might have been killed by the Ilyas Kashmiri faction of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HuJI) for the damage he had done to their network, a leading US magazine, The New Yorker, had claimed that “the order to kill Pakistani investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad came from a senior officer of the Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani’s staff”. Authored by Dexter Filkins, the September 11, 2011, report stated that Shahzad had angered the Pakistani authorities by writing about al-Qaeda infiltrating the Pakistan navy at a particularly sensitive time as Pakistani leaders were reeling from the humiliation of the May 2 raid by the United States Special Forces that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan.
While exploring Saleem Shahzad-Ilyas Kashmiri link, The New Yorker report said that the militant was killed in Pakistan’s largely lawless tribal region only four days after Shahzad’s body was discovered. “Given the brief time that passed between Shahzad’s death and Kashmiri’s, a question inevitably arose: Did the Americans find Kashmiri on their own?” Filkins asks. “Or did they benefit from information obtained by the ISI during its detention of Saleem Shahzad? If so, his death would be not just a terrible example of Pakistani state’s brutality; it would be a terrible example of the collateral damage sustained in America’s war on terror.”
In fact, Shahzad’s cell-phone records revealed more than 258 calls in one month to and from a single number that may have been Kashmiri’s. This could have prompted the intelligence spooks (who had been bugging Shahzad’s phone) to abduct the poor journalist and torture him to extract any possible information about Kashmiri’s whereabouts, eventually leading to his death.