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The faceless killers of Saleem Shahzad, who seem more powerful than the government, are still at large

By Waqar Gillani

This is what happens. You write a story, a strong one, that mentions ‘intelligence’, ‘links’ and ‘terrorismÂ’ and it is certain something will happen.

It starts with phone calls with no number on your phone screen and tinted-windowed cars with bogus number plates tailing you. The next thing you know is that your house is broken into, everything is turned upside down; your PC may still be there, but the hard disk isn’t. Soon, the phone starts ringing at the oddest hours. Paranoia sets in rather quickly – everything seems bugged, phones taped and everyone looks suspicious.

Following this paranoia, one day you mysteriously ‘disappear’. Consider it your luck if you are able to return alive after terrifying humiliation at the hands of ‘agencies’. Otherwise, you could be found dead a few days later, blindfolded, your hands tied, head and eyebrows shaved and parts of your body badly bruised.

Such terrifying disappearances, particularly of press reporters, are becoming a frequent trend in Pakistan. Sometimes, the lucky ones return to tell the terrifying tales of torture; others are recovered dead at some strange and far place. A “strong message” is thus sent to the press to follow the “national interest”.

Allegedly, this is the known modus operandi of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s premier intelligence agency, notoriously known as a “state within the state”, hounding its own people in the name of, what they consider, “national interest”.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the bureau chief Asia Timers Online, who first went missing and then found dead after three days, is the fifth journalist to die in the first five months of 2011.

The country’s security forces have been experiencing bad times these days due to embarrassing and brutal incidents one after the other – Osama Bin Laden’s killing by United States Navy SEALs, attack on PNS Mehran base and the brutal killing of innocent people in Quetta and Karachi.

Shahzad had exposed the alleged links of Pakistan Navy and al-Qaeda in his last news report. The “Media Wing” of the ISI is said to be quite instrumental in approaching journalists and politely asking them, followed by threats, to stop doing stories which do not suit them. Shahzad had put all these things on record while circulating emails to his close friends about the threats.

His autopsy revealed at least 17 different marks of injuries. Some papers blamed the ISI for Shahzad’s brutal murder. Reportedly, the head of the ISI Media Wing, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, had earlier summoned Shahzad to divulge his sources for a story on a released Taliban commander. Shahzad, by his own account, said nothing.

“Picked up from Islamabad; car found at a far place after a couple of days; and then his body found miles away from his car hints at the typical method of the ISI,” Umar Cheema, an Islamabad-based reporter, who was also picked up in the same way but luckily survived, tells TNS.

“In my case, they always advised me not to write too much about them. Later, they sent me messages cleverly laced with threats. I was lucky enough to have survived and come back. They put me in a safe house far from Islamabad,” Cheema recalls. “The judicial commission, which was formed by the government to probe the issue, has not made any progress. There seems a deliberate negligence in finding the culprits as they seem more powerful than the government.”

The horrendous part of the tragic story is the facts were hidden and evidence was destroyed by not following the proper pattern of investigation. The police quickly buried Shahzad’s body fulfilling all legal formalities in haste, claiming there was no mortuary at the hospital to keep the body. Police failed to get any video footage or some other clue that could have traced the culprits. Islamabad police believe it is the responsibility of the Punjab police from where the body was found, while they themselves have failed in investigating how Shahzad was picked up from Islamabad.

The government had formed a committee that was supposed to submit its report within three days, but nothing has been done yet. President Asif Ali Zardari had formed a delayed commission which was rejected by the media organisations.

“The rules of forensic medicine, forensic science and criminal investigation have not been followed properly in the case. Seemingly, crucial evidence is destroyed,” opines forensic medicine expert, Dr Naseeb R Awan. He says the body has been buried in haste without following the procedure of identification which includes contacting locals, giving advertisement in newspapers and, the most important, without knowing the cause of death particularly when the body is badly tortured. “This indicates that police either was negligent or being influenced by the higher authorities.”

“I cannot share the progress in the investigation of Shahzad’s murder with you,” Mandi Bahauddin District Police Officer, Dar Ali Khan Khattak, replies to TNS, adding, “Lets hope for the best.”
Source: The News