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Archive for June 1st, 2011

RIP Saleem Shahzad

Source: Washington Post

On Sunday, Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad  went missing in Islamabad. Yesterday, news agencies reported that Shahzad’s body was found about 93 miles southeast of the capital, in Sira-e-Alamgir. In the aftermath of this tragic and shocking death, the question, Who killed Saleem Shahzad? continues to echo in the halls of the blogosphere and news outlets. While nothing is certain, many fingers are squarely pointed at the ISI.

Let’s review the details.

Shahzad, a journalist for the Asia Times Online and Italian news agency Adnkronos International, went missing just two days after his report on the connections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Navy was published. Omar Waraich reported in TIME,

[the story said that]…Al Qaeda had attacked a naval base [PNS Mehran] in the port city of Karachi on May 22 after talks had broken down between the Pakistan navy and the global terrorist organization. In his report, Shahzad claimed that Al Qaeda had carried out the attack in retaliation for the arrest of naval officials suspected of links with the terrorist group.

Waraich reported that Shahzad was allegedly abducted by intelligence agents in Islamabad while he was on his way to Dunya News channel to discuss the findings in this aforementioned report. The next morning, Ali Dayan Hasan from Human Rights Watch, received a call from the journalist’s wife who said Shahzad told her to call Hasan “in case anything happens to him.” Hasan told the AFP,

The other day he visited our office and informed us that ISI had threatened him. He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and threats. We can form an opinion after the investigation and a court verdict, but… in the past the ISI has been involved in similar incidents.

On Monday, Hasan said he was “informed by reliable interlocutors” who had received “direct confirmation from the [ISI]” that they had, in fact, detained Shahzad, but that he was supposed to return home Monday night. According to TIME, Hasan said, “The relevant people were informed that his telephone would be switched on first, enabling him to communicate with his family… They were told that he would return home soon after.”
Obviously, Shahzad did not return home. His body was found about 100 miles from his abdandoned car, his face “severely beaten” and “showing signs of torture,” reported news agencies.
His death further highlights the dangers facing journalists in Pakistan, who are often caught between intelligence agencies and militant groups. Huma Imtiaz wrote in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel yesterday,
Journalists are picked up when they are driving down the streets, whether in the capital Islamabad or a village, and eventually  are dropped off — tortured in the case of Umar Cheema, who was abducted by security agencies after he filed a series of reports on the Pakistani military — or killed, as in the case of Hayatullah Khan, whose body appeared after he tried to cover a reported U.S. missile strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Khan’s assassins have never been found.

As a result, she noted, many “journalists end up censoring themselves, fearful of the either verbal or physical repercussions. In some cases, when journalists do file reports, channels refuse to air them — again, fearful of upsetting the men in Rawalpindi.”

Although PM Gilani ordered an inquiry into the kidnapping and murder, and pledged that the perpetrators would be “brought to book,” let’s be honest. How can you feasibly hold men accountable to the law if they see themselves above the law? We are from a country where the right arm of the state very rarely knows what the left is doing, where agencies would rather protect their assets than their citizens. Accountability is not part of our vernacular, it’s the dirt we shove shamefully beneath the carpet. Better to live in a world of delusional grandeur, we say. Better to expose our neighbor’s faults than examine our own.

My sister is a journalist. She often notes that the instinctive human reaction to a disaster, attack or bomb blast is to run away. Journalists function counter-intuitively. They run towards the chaos. They put the story before their own lives. Their courage and commitment are often why citizens can be more informed participants in the conversation, why we have the ammunition to ask the questions that should be asked. Saleem Shahzad’s death was an enormous loss for a community of journalists who will continue to report in the face of censorship, harassment, and violence. It was an enormous loss for us all. RIP.

Some relevant pieces worth reading:

  • “Criticizing Pakistan’s Military,” a Q&A with Asma Jehangir, NPR
  • “One Saleem Shahzad’s Brutal Murder & the Military,” Kala Kawa
  • “Pakistan Journalist Dead: Another One Bites the Dust,” Five Rupees
  • “Who Killed Saleem Shahzad,” Daily Beast
  •  “My Courageous Friend and Colleague,” Dawn
  • “Death of a Journalist. Warning to a Nation,” ATP

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