Saleem Shahzad report
FRIDAY marked the death anniversary of a Pakistani journalist and the failure to find the culprits behind the murder of another. Even as Wali Khan Babar’s case awaits trial one year on, the judicial commission tasked with examining Saleem Shahzad’s murder and with identifying the culprits has said it does not have the evidence required to fix responsibility.
It does, however, spend considerable space arriving at some damning conclusions about the workings of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The Pakistani state is listed as one of ‘various belligerents’ including the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ‘foreign actors’ who could have had a motive to ‘commit the crime’. This then is the state of press freedom in Pakistan.
According to a commission that includes senior judges and police officials, the state is listed alongside militants as a force that may have murdered a Pakistani journalist.
There is more than one way to interpret this issue.
A judicial commission is reliant, to some extent, on police investigation. Did the report reflect police incompetence that resulted in insufficient evidence being available, or was it intimidation by intelligence agencies rather than ineffectiveness that resulted in poor police investigation? Alternatively, given that the investigation took nearly six months and included extensive examination of the testimonies of witnesses, Mr Shahzad’s writing and his phone and email records, was the commission trying to avoid ruffling feathers?
Or was it only indirectly implicating the state by discussing the need to bring major intelligence agencies under greater administrative, parliamentary and judicial control? It is true that, due to his focus on militancy, Mr Shahzad may have had a number of different enemies. But given the culture of the harassment of Pakistani journalists at the hands of intelligence agencies and Mr Shahzad’s own warnings that he was under threat from them, public perception will continue to suspect the state.
But the upshot is, as it is in almost all other cases of journalists’ murders in Pakistan, except that of foreign reporter Daniel Pearl, the truth will likely never come to light.
Various press-freedom groups around the world come up with different figures each year for the number of media personnel killed in the line of duty but their conclusion is the same: Pakistani journalists operate in one of the most dangerous and least accountable theatres anywhere. The threats they face range from militants to their own state.
Despite all the uncertainties surrounding Mr Shahzad’s case, one thing is clear. Like all those that have gone before it, one of the most alarming murders of a journalist in Pakistan’s history is likely to remain unresolved.