Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Pakistan’s journalists won’t be silenced
The killing of an Islamabad-based Pakistani journalist ,who went missing a few days ago, has triggered an outpouring of grief and anger. Pakistani journalists and activists are demanding answers for the murder of Saleem Shahzad, who Human Rights Watch said, told them before he was abducted that he was under threat from the Inter-Services Intelligence, the powerful spy agency.
Shahzad, a reporter for the Asia Times and the Italian news agency Adnkronos International, wrote on security/intelligence issues, often delving deep into the dangerous world of Islamist militancy . The last story he wrote for the Asia Times two days before he was abducted, suggested that a militant attack on the navy’s main base in Karachi on May 22 was carried out because the navy was trying to crack down on cells from Al Qaeda that had infiltrated the force.
The 16-hour raid on the Mehran base in which the militants destroyed two U.S. supplied surveillance aircraft deep inside the base and killed 10 military personnel has embarrassed the military, coming days after the U.S. operation to take out Osama bin Laden in a garrison town not far from the nation’s capital, without the apparent knowledge of the miitary. The naval raid also raised questions of complicity of base personnel in helping the militants mount the attack, putting the military further in a spot.
Pakistan’s journalists have been unwavering in their questioning and often withering criticism of the military, more so after the bin Laden raid than at any other time in the recent past. On Tuesday as news of Shahzad’s murder filtered through, sending a chill through anyone connected with the profession , the journalists on the frontlines showed little signs of intimidation. Here’s an editorial from The Daily Times that minces few words :
This should also serve as an eye-opener for those who have been apologising for the military and the Taliban alike. How many more innocents have to die before we realise that our country is a war zone where no one is safe from either our so-called saviours or the terrorists. Mr Shahzad and many others like him paid the price for reporting the truth. We must stop blaming external forces for what we are facing right now. In a country where terrorists, murderers, rapists and criminals roam free, deaths of innocents are all but inevitable. How many more people will have to sacrifice their lives before we finally call a spade a spade? Pakistan is in a deep mess right now and it is all our own doing. Let’s wake up to this reality before our soil turns completely red (if it has not already) with the blood of our citizens. RIP Saleem Shahzad; we cannot condemn or mourn your death adequately in words. Our only salvation now lies in bringing Mr Shahzad’s murderers to book.
The Guardian quoted Pakistan talk show host Quatrina Husain as saying : “We want an answer. We need an answer. We deserve an answer.” Others directly blamed the spy agencies. Author Mohammad Hanif tweeted : Any journalist here who doesn’t believe that it’s our intelligence agencies ?”
An official of the ISI was reported to have said that allegations of the agency’s involvement in Shahzad’s killing were absurd.
But as Huma Imtiaz wrote on the AFPAK Channel of Foreign Policy there was a disturbing pattern of attacks on journalists.
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.