Slain, in the line of duty: A year on, Saleem Shahzad’s culprits remain at large
By Asad Kharal
LAHORE: A year after journalist Saleem Shahzad was assassinated, his killers are yet to be apprehended and recommendations of an inquiry commission formed to probe the incident implemented, said the victim’s family and human rights groups.
By not pointing out the culprits behind Shahzad’s murder, the commission’s findings have granted a ‘licence to kill’ to those who target journalists covering the war on terror in Pakistan, said Hamza Ameer, contributor to Asia Times Online and Shahzad’s brother-in-law.
The sentiment was echoed by Amnesty International (AI) which, in a press release on its website, said that “Pakistan must take urgent steps to bring his killers to justice and properly investigate claims of intimidation against journalists, including, by intelligence services.”
Shahzad was abducted from Islamabad on May 29, 2011 while heading to a television station. His body, bearing signs of torture, was found several kilometres outside Islamabad on May 31.
A commission, headed by Supreme Court judge Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, was subsequently formed by the government and tasked to inquire into the background of the incident and identify the culprits involved. The commission was also asked to probe the constitutional implications of this situation, and recommend measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
In its report published in January this year, however, the commission said it was unable to identify Shahzad’s killers. It speculated that any of a number of state, non-state or foreign actors, including al Qaeda or the Taliban, could have been responsible.
The inquiry also revealed a trail of missing evidence that could have helped identify the perpetrators, including Shahzad’s mobile phone log, the vehicle he had been abducted from, and footage from the security cameras across Islamabad.
Not a single witness to his abduction came forward, even though the route from Shahzad’s home to a TV station where he had been due to conduct an interview passed through several police checkpoints, AI said, quoting the inquiry report.
The inquiry had criticised police for failing to question the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) adequately about Shahzad even though the panel itself allowed the ISI representatives to submit prepared statements, and subjected them to limited questioning, AI added.
Reining in the agencies
Among other recommendations, the commission had suggested “that the more important agencies (Inter-Services Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau) be made more law-abiding through a statutory framework carefully outlining their respective mandates and role; that their interaction with the media be carefully, institutionally stream-lined and regularly documented; that all the agencies be made more accountable through effective and suitably-tailored mechanisms of internal administrative review (and) parliamentary oversight.”
Resigned to fate
The slain journalist’s widow, Anita Saleem, appeared resigned to the lack of justice.
“We didn’t have any expectations from the investigations, that is why we don’t have any response on the commission’s decision,” she said.
Ameer, talking to The Express Tribune, added that most of the commission’s recommendations, vis-à-vis the family, have not been implemented so far either.
The commission had recommended financial compensation to the family, free education for Shahzad’s three children – 15-year old Fahad, 13-year old Amna, and Rehman Shah, 10 – and a job for Shahzad’s wife. So far, the government has only provided the financial compensation to the family, he added.