Why Saleem Shahzad had to die | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Why Saleem Shahzad had to die

Amir Mir

LAHORE: Pakistan’s murky world of terrorist outfits and spy agencies leaves a long line of suspects in the barbaric murder of senior writer, author and journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. In third world countries like Pakistan, journalists can reasonably be sure of living till the morning their by-lines appear. From there on, you don’t know who might take affront to your report, abduct, torture or even slay you. This is the essence of the tragic story of Syed Saleem Shahzad, whose body was found in a canal 150 km away from Islamabad on May 31.

Shahzad went missing on the evening of May 29, a day after the Asia Times Online had posted his story titled ‘al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistani strikeÂ’, stating that the international terror outfit was engaged in negotiations with the Pakistani Navy for the release of its personnel incarcerated for their alleged links to militants. As per the news report, the Pakistan Navy had agreed to free them only on the completion of their interrogation, a term the al-Qaeda rejected. The May 22 audacious attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi, Shahzad’s story claimed, was an outcome of the breakdown in the navy-al-Qaeda negotiations, thereby testifying to the militant-military nexus.

The post-mortem report of Shahzad, prepared by a team of three doctors, says the journalist died soon after he was kidnapped, that this wasn’t a case of deliberate killing. Dr Farrukh Kamal, who headed the autopsy team, said: “There were at least 17 wounds, including deep gashes. The ribs from the left and right sides seemed to be hit with violent force, using a blunt object. The broken ribs pierced Shahzad’s lungs, apparently causing the death”.

So the pertinent question to ask is: who tortured Shahzad, not who killed him? One school of thought accuses the dreaded intelligence establishment, saying Saleem Shahzad had been tortured in order to extract from him the source of his May 28 story. The ISI issued a statement rubbishing the allegation. A second school of thought believes militants could have bumped off Shahzad to embarrass the ISI. Then there are those who say Shahzad was the victim of personal enmity.

The first to fire a salvo against the ISI was Ali Dayan Hasan of the Human Rights Watch. On May 30, he said: “We were informed through reliable interlocutors that he was detained by the ISI”. But what really had the tongues wagging against the ISI was Hasan’s other disclosure – on October 17, 2010 Shahzad had been summoned to the Islamabad headquarters of the ISI by the Information Management Wing of the agency, which wanted to discuss Shahzad’s recent report in which he claimed that Pakistan had quietly released the fugitive amir of Afghan Taliban Mulla Omar’s deputy, Mulla Baradar, for taking part in Afghan negotiations through the Pakistani military establishment.

Present at the ISI headquarters were just two navy officers, who politely requested Shahzad to name the source of his story or at least write a denial. When he refused, one of the officials informed Shahzad about a hit list obtained from a detained terrorist and added: “If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know”. Interpreting this as a threat, Shahzad thought it prudent to tell the HRW representative about the meeting in an email dated October 18, 2010. Fuelling speculation is another nugget of information – one official during the 2010 meeting was Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, who has recently been appointed the new commander of the Mehran naval base, a few days after the May 22 attack.

About the October 17, 2010 meeting, the ISI issued a rare statement [following Shahzad’s murder] saying: “The reported e-mail of Saleem Shahzad to Mr Ali Hasan Dayan of HRW has no veiled or unveiled threats in it. The ISI justified summoning Shahzad in these words: “The reported meeting between the journalist and ISI officials of the Information Management Wing was held to discuss a story he had done for Asia Times Online on 15th of October, and the meeting had nothing sinister about it. It is part of the wing’s mandate to remain in touch with the journalist community. The main objective behind all such interactions is provision of accurate information on matters of national security. The ISI also makes it a point to notify institutions and individuals alike of any threat warning received about them,” the statement added.

Seasoned journalist Najam Sethi; however, provided a new twist to the raging speculation in his Geo TV programme: “The way Shahzad has been killed seems more likely to be a handiwork of the agencies”. Sethi felt his abductors were oblivious of ShahzadÂ’s vulnerability – he had been shot at last year, the bullet lodging into the left side of his ribs, right under his heart. His abductors might have abducted him to teach him a lesson, ignorant of his low endurance level to beating because of the wound sustained last year. They didn’t want to kill him, opined Sethi.

Najam Sethi’s scenario is reasonable, but his assumption is wrong, say votaries of another school. Anyone could have tortured Shahzad, not necessarily the ISI. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has opined that the murder could be a case of personal enmity.

That Shahzad was fired at last year by a security guard following a scuffle in the F-6 area of the federal capital, is being furnished as an evidence to insist that he at least had one ruthless enemy capable of extreme violence. The Islamabad police have already arrested the guard, Ishtiaq, in connection with the murder investigations, who is being interrogated. However, Shahzad’s close circles say he had pardoned the guard and withdrawn the case against him, after which he was released.

The third school of thought says Saleem Shahzad could have been killed by Islamic militants who have repeatedly targeted the Pakistan military installations on the assumption that it betrayed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. This school feels the militants had correctly estimated that the killing of Shahzad would be blamed on the ISI, undermining its credibility further. A defensive ISI is indeed good news for militant outfits, they say. No, argue critics, pointing to Shahzad’s formidable connections in the militant world and asking: haven’t in the death of Shahzad they have lost a journalist whom they relied upon to voice their views?

However, those who suspect involvement of agencies refer to Saleem Shahzad’s wife Anita’s claim that she had received an anonymous call on the night of May 29, the day her husband was abducted, asking her not to worry about Shahzad who would be released the following morning. But he never returned to her alive. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairman (HRCP) Zohra Yusuf has also blamed the state actors for the murder, stating: “The timing and manner of Shahzad’s abduction make it abundantly clear that he was targeted only because of his work as a journalist. The quick disposal of his body and burial strengthens doubts of the involvement of state actors”.

All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) President Hameed Haroon has also blamed the agencies in a statement, saying: “I wish to verify that allegations levelled by HRW at the ISI are essentially in complete consonance with the contents of the slain journalist’s email. I wish to state on record for the information of the officers involved in investigating Shahzad’s gruesome murder that the late journalist confided to me and several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years. Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Shahzad’s last testimony”.

Therefore, the ISI is surely on the back foot. Whosoever is responsible for Syed Saleem Shahzad’s barbaric murder, one thing is for sure – he was not the last journalist to have sacrificed his life for uncovering the truth, as there are many more newsmen in Pakistan who firmly believe that the ‘truth’ remains superior to the so-called ‘national interest’.
Source: The News