The mystery behind Saleem Shahzad’s murder
June 24, 2011
The brutal murder of Saleem Shahzad, seemingly an attack on freedom of expression, was in turn an implicit strike to further deteriorate the persisting delicate security situation of Pakistan. Soon after writing an investigative report on PNS Mehran, Shahzad’s family reported his suspicious missing from Islamabad. He was supposed to be on a TV show when he was abducted on the eve of 29th May. To many, the murder was an obvious reaction to Shahzad’s controversial investigative reporting, but to few, this seemed to be a plot well executed by the anti-Pakistan forces. Both theories stand vindicated and both have solid reasons to be believed upon.
Shahzad, who had written a lot on Al-Qaeda and Taliban, was known for flirting with danger. He covered various stories including Ilyas Kashmiri’s Al Qaeda activities and Mullah Barader’s arrest and apparent release, for which he was reported to be questioned by the ISI. He was known for a specific genre of investigative stories which others would have hesitated to cover. Another reason for his claim to fame was Asia Times Online, an online newspaper, famous for Shahzad’s controversial investigative reports. The vibrant Pakistan media, known for emotion rather than accuracy, have all started accusing the intelligence agencies for Shahzad’s abduction and murder. An obnoxious development resulting in the murder was ISI’s official denial of any link with the incident.
The so called “Establishment” has long been accused of curbing independent media voices. Many journalists, including Umar Cheema, have been harassed for being critical of their practices. The blame, seemingly logical, is always pointed towards them. Pakistanis have long been lured to believe the notion of establishment’s hand in maneuvering public sentiments through media and other tools, although true in some cases, proves to be otherwise in many.
It is noteworthy to examine the content of reports and articles published by Shazad on Asia Times Online. The PNS report concluded with the following statement: “Al Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on the PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the Navy and Al Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of Al Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals,”. This statement propagates two thinking points. One was the vague used of the word “investigation” by Saleem Shahzad and other is the adamant claim of Navy’s links with Al-Qaeda. The former, without any source, was a blind shot that claimed to have solid information on the allegations, whereas the latter tried to expose armed forces links with Al Qaeda, which clearly went against the national interest. It would be nothing less than inciting mutiny if without any solid proof someone accuses the armed forces of an act of mala fide.
In a delicate situation, when the government and establishment are under strict scrutiny by the masses, such an investigative report would prove harmful not only for the institutions but also for the status-quo of the state. This scenario coupled with Shahzad’s fear for himself and his family led to a definite situation leading towards holding the intelligence agencies responsible for the murder. If the accused already knew Shahzad had expressed his fears in media, would they have tried to abduct him? After all the articles that he published that caused a shockwave around the defense circles, was it wise enough to abduct and murder him? This leads to an anti-thesis for the former situation. Current stage of south Asian politics and war against terror has the Pak Army and ISI in the limelight. The only agenda and actions in recent times affirm the strategies made to defame and divide these institutions of Pakistan that for long have held together and protected the country from the seen and unforeseen enemies.
If Pakistan has to divide, the armed forces must be disintegrated. Any threat or even the murder of Shahzad would directly be linked to ISI’s previous record, but it does not affirm the fact that ISI would be involved in it. Shahzad’s murder was a gain for none other than the anti-Pakistan forces. Although the murder of Saleem Shahzad could not be justified at any count, the content he published was the center of attraction for the forces within and outside Pakistan. Even if a neutral panel of investigation for the murder is established, these forces would never allow an impartial investigation to carry forward. Be it the Army or the “Anti” forces, Saleem Shahzad left the scene not before reshaping the whole regional media theater, that has led to inquiry of a very important question: Have the journalists and media also become integral players in international policy making?