June 10, 2011
Saleem Shahzad and I had been neighbors for years. We lived in the same locality in Karachi (until he moved to Islamabad), and we worked for same organization until we both took different paths to pursue our journalistic careers. His outstanding and enviable career ended when he was brutally tortured and killed on May 30, just a few hours after he had been abducted from a posh and highly secured area in Islamabad. Usually death is attributed to the end of all mortal contacts, including neighborhood, but Saleem and I are still neighbors. He is buried just 500 meters away from my residence.
It was a pleasant morning of October 1998, when a slim (he later put on weight), and smart young man wearing short beard entered the newsroom of Pakistan Press International, and strode to the room of the then bureau chief of the organization, Saeed Azhar.
I could see both talking to each other behind the glass. After a few minutes, they came together in the newsroom, and Saeed announced “This is Saleem Shahzad, and he will be working with us from today”.
It was the first meeting with Saleem, though his name was not unfamiliar to me. He had already earned popularity for his investigative reporting in the field of local bodies and aviation. His stories on Karachi Electric Supply Corporation and the Pakistan International Airlines had simply jolted the two corporations.
His seat was next to me. We had many things to share, besides short beards. Within a few hours at our first meeting, we found out that we had various common friends, including his younger brother who had been my college mate.
He would not stay at office for a long period as compared to other reporters as he had been working also for Dawn group’s English eveninger Star. But in spite of that, he soon became an essential part of our reporting team. Arman Sabir, a senior BBC producer, who was our chief reporter at PPI at that time, telephoned me as soon as Saleem’s death was confirmed. “Aamir, do you remember those days, when entered our office”, Arman asked reminding me those days when all of us appeared to be hand-to-mouth in the last days of every month. Saleem was the only one who had a second hand fox-wagon type car but he would use that very rarely. He exploited his feet and athletic built very well in those days.
I still remember that morning, when Seleem rang me up and said “ Aamir, I won’t come to office today, Allah has given me a son”. I could feel the jubilation and excitement in his tone. He was talking about his crown prince, Fahad Saleem.
Time, as usual, passed very quickly. I got a scholarship and went to study at the George Washington University. And when I came back, Saleem had already left PPI. After leaving PPI, Saleem went too high and too quick. He drifted himself into to the reporting of so-called war on terror. His knowledge about the rise of militancy initially in the country’s northern tribal belt and later in other settled areas, and reasons behind that phenomenon, was amazing. Many senior journalists like Abbas Nasir, Hamid Mir, Zafar Abbas, Ejaz Haider, Nusrat Javed, Mushtaq Minhas, Naseem Zehra and others appear to be highly impressed by Saleem’s good grasp of knowledge in this field.
Many believe that this “good grasp” turned out to be fatal for him. His unusually straight forward reporting invited the ire of both Taliban and the intelligence agencies. Both were unhappy with him. Saleem too had sensed that, and had informed his friends, colleagues, and representatives of some human rights organizations about that.
Though, there is no evidence about involvement of secret agencies in his murder, however circumstantial evidences, and the emails written but Saleem to his editors and human rights organizations, strengthen the doubts. The ball is in army’s court. If secret agencies are not involved in this gruesome and cowardly act, and the whole exercise is aimed at maligning their image, then it is their responsibility to unmask those elements who have done that.
And a few words for those paid journalists, who are trying hard to tarnish the image of Saleem after his death by blaming him for having contacts with the US embassy and CIA. For God sake, don’t humiliate your colleague at least after his death. You would have many other opportunities to earn money, but please don’t do it at the dead body of your colleague.
If visits to US embassy or contacts with its officials are crimes, then Pakistan government and the army are bigger criminals. Pakistan has been the biggest ally of the US in war on terror. The ISI has been in close contact and cooperating with CIA and FBI for last ten years. Pakistan government and army have been receiving billions of dollars from the US. And they are still patriotic. But if Saleem visited US embassy, he became a traitor. Does it make sense? Is America an enemy country to Pakistan?
I am not sure whether these so-called journalists would buy this argument, but one last sentence for the killers of Shahzad. Jesus (AS) says “If you kill someone by the sword, then for sure, you will be killed by the sword too”.