Category Archives: Journalists

Repression in Balochistan – ‘brutal and inhuman’: Report

By Ali Ismail
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has come out with a  devastating exposure of the brutal and inhumane tactics Pakistan’s military and security agencies are using  in the country’s poorest province.

The 132-page report documents the widespread use of enforced disappearances in Balochistan and reveals how security forces use kidnappings, torture, and extra-judicial killings to terrorize the long-suffering Baloch people into submission. The report is a damning indictment of the PPP-led central government, under which Pakistan’s security services continue to commit atrocities in Balochistan and elsewhere with impunity.

Entitled “We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan,” the report is based on interviews with a hundred individuals, including relatives of the “disappeared,” persons who had been secretly detained and then released, local human rights activists and lawyers and witnesses to kidnappings and killings perpetrated by Pakistani security forces. An appendix to the report contains detailed descriptions of 45 cases of enforced disappearances, the majority of which were reported in 2009 and 2010. Teachers, students, political activists, and journalists have all been targeted by the state.

“These cases show that Pakistan’s security forces, particularly its intelligence agencies, targeted for enforced disappearance ethnic Baloch suspected of involvement in the Baloch nationalist movement,” the report notes. People are often targeted for their tribal affiliation, especially after a particular tribe was involved in clashes with Pakistan’s armed forces.

It is unclear exactly how many enforced disappearances have been perpetrated by Pakistan’s security forces in recent years. Baloch nationalists claim that thousands are missing.

In some cases, representatives of intelligence agencies admitted their responsibility for abductions to Balochis searching for missing family members. Relatives of the disappeared overwhelmingly blame Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) for kidnapping their loved ones. Many of those abducted for belonging to or having links to groups like the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), Baloch National Front (BNF), Baloch National Party (BNP) and Baloch Student Organization (Azad) (BSO-Azad) have never been seen again.

While the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan is rooted in oppression and discrimination, none of these groups express the interests of ordinary Balochis. Their reactionary nationalist orientation makes it impossible for them to appeal to workers and toilers throughout Pakistan and internationally. Various Baloch nationalist groups promote anti-Punjabi and anti-Pashtun sentiment in Balochistan and launch communal attacks against Punjabis and other non-Balochis residing in the province. The right-wing character of such groups is underscored by their increasingly explicit attempts to gain the political support of US imperialism.

Since the establishment of the Pakistani state through the communal partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, there have been five nationalist insurgencies in Balochistan. The current insurgency has been raging since 2004. In 2005, prominent Baloch nationalists Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri presented a 15-point manifesto to the Pakistani government, demanding greater control of the province’s resources and an end to the construction of military bases. The conflict intensified in 2006 after Bugti was killed by the Pakistani army, which had trapped him in his cave hideout.

Pakistan’s western-most province, Balochistan constitutes almost 45 percent of the country’s land mass. But, largely desert, Balochistan is sparsely populated, accounting for about 5 percent of Pakistan’s total population. The majority of the eight million people residing in Balochistan live in rural areas. The Baloch represent the largest ethnic group in the province and Balochi is the most widely spoken language, but there is also a sizable Pashtun population, especially in the northern districts of Balochistan. Thirty percent of the province’s population claim Pashto as their first language.

The most remote part of the province, Eastern Balochistan, contains the country’s richest (though mostly untapped) natural resource deposits, including oil, gas, copper and gold. The report notes that Eastern Balochistan is “the area where the struggle for power between the Pakistani state and local tribal elites has been most apparent.”

Balochistan is strategically located between Iran and Afghanistan, and contains the second most important supply route for the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan. The strategic location and abundant natural resources of the province have made it the subject of an intensifying rivalry between the major capitalist powers, above all the United States and China, both of which seek to dominate the region so as to control and exploit its resources. In May, Pakistan proposed that China take control of the newly-built Arabian Sea port facility in Gwadar, located in southern Balochistan. The port has long been the focus of US strategic concerns because it could potentially allow China to transport oil and natural gas from the Middle East overland to western China, thereby bypassing the Straits of Malacca and other ocean “chokepoints.” China financed the construction of the Gwadar port, leading to repeated warning from US strategists that it could ultimately serve as a Chinese naval base.

While Balochistan is rich in natural resources, it remains by far Pakistan’s poorest and least developed province. 27 percent of children under the age of five in the province were found to be malnourished in 2010. Nearly half of the province’s population suffers from “extreme educational poverty,” having received less than two years of education.

“A vast majority of the people in the province—mainly in its Baloch-dominated central and southern regions—live below the poverty line with next to no means of earning a livelihood. They have minimal access to education, health, roads, electricity and other means of communication,” noted a recent report in the Dawn, a Karachi-based English-language daily. “Most of them have never heard about a flush toilet, a sewerage disposal system and running tap water. Their ramshackle abodes are as basic as the temporary shelters in a badly run refugee camp and their belongings as nominal as those of any asset-less group of people in a war-ravaged African country.”

These miserable social conditions are the result of decades of abuse and neglect by the federal government, and have long fueled resentment among ordinary Balochis and fostered nationalist sentiment among the local Baloch elite.

“Militancy in Balochistan has been fueled by ethnic Baloch anger over the Pakistani government’s efforts to harness local mineral and fossil fuel resources, maintain large numbers of troops in the province, and construct the Gwadar deep-sea port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf with non-Baloch workers,” states the HRW report.

Throughout Pakistan’s history, the national bourgeoisie has trampled over the democratic rights of the country’s workers and toilers, with civilian law enforcement authorities and military-intelligence agencies routinely perpetrating human rights violations against individuals even in those periods when the country has not been under military dictatorship. However, as the report notes, “the proliferation of enforced disappearances by the security forces has been a relatively recent development.”

Indeed, Pakistan entered a new era of human rights abuses following the US-led imperialist invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. Under the US-backed dictator General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan made a strategic reversal, withdrawing its sponsorship of the Taliban regime in Kabul and providing logistical support for the neo-colonial invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Under Musharraf, Pakistan provided US imperialism with offshore torture sights. Moreover, hundreds, if not thousands, of ordinary Pakistanis were kidnapped by security forces and handed over to the US, often for money. Many of these individuals remain missing, their distraught families anxiously awaiting any news of their whereabouts.

While initially aimed at suspected Taliban-aligned militants, Pakistani authorities soon adopted these illegal and brutal methods against Baloch nationalists.

Confident of the support they enjoy from both Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders, security forces in Balochistan kidnap people in broad daylight, often in crowded public areas, and in the presence of many witnesses. The cases documented in the HRW report include victims who were dragged away from shops and hotels, university campuses, and places of work.

The ruthlessness of the security forces is demonstrated by their targeting of young children involved with Baloch nationalist groups or with relatives associated with such groups. According to the report, “On March 5, 2010, 14-year-old Nasibullah Langao and 12-year-old Abdul Waheed, students from Ismail village in Hudda district, were allegedly disappeared after they started making inquiries about the killing of Langao’s uncle, Abdul Majid Langao.” An active member of the Baloch National Front, Abdul Majid had been shot dead by FC soldiers and men in civilian clothes in front of multiple witnesses when he answered the door at his house just days before. “The men took away Abdul Majid’s body as well as various pieces of property from the house. In response to protests in the village, the body was eventually returned to the family, but not the property.”

According to their families, the boys Nasibullah Langao and Abdul Waheed have not been seen since they were snatched from the street in broad daylight a few days after they went to the Frontier Corps and police to find out what happened to Nasibullah’s uncle and to retrieve his belongings.

As in the Pashtun-dominated northwest tribal areas, the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have used torture and extrajudicial killings to mercilessly suppress the nationalists and to intimidate the local population.

“The methods of torture,” says the HRW report, include “prolonged beatings, often with sticks or leather belts, hanging the detainees upside down, and food and sleep deprivation.”

HRW interviewed Bashir Azeem, a medical doctor and the secretary general of the Baloch Republican Party, who vividly described the gruesome torture he was forced to endure during his last illegal detention in 2009: “There was no floor in the cell, just the dirt ground, and a plastic bottle for urinating. They soon brought me for another interrogation. They hung me upside down by the feet, and kept asking who was financing us, and where the militants were. The following days they continued torturing me in various ways. They pushed pins under my nails, put a chair on my back and sat on top of it, and put me for 48 hours into a room where I could only stand but not move. When they took me out, my legs were so swollen that I collapsed on the floor and fainted.”

Some of those abducted are murdered while in custody, their bullet-ridden bodies turning up alongside roads around the province. The corpses often display signs of severe torture.

According to the report, “There is increasing evidence to substantiate the fears of many families that disappeared relatives who have been missing for months or years have been killed in custody.” Local groups have discovered 180 bodies in recent months, mostly of men who were reportedly kidnapped by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) in cooperation with Frontier Corps paramilitaries.

“The bullet-riddled body of 14-year-old Baloch Student Organization-Azad activist Mohammad Khan Zohaib was also found in Khuzdar, on October 20, 2010,” notes the report. “According to Baloch human rights activists, Zohaib’s relatives said that FC soldiers had abducted him in July 2010.”

Many released detainees, witnesses to kidnappings and arrests, and relatives of the victims have been threatened by the authorities for seeking information and demanding justice.

A 2007 hearing on nearly 200 cases of enforced disappearances submitted to the Supreme Court by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan led to the release of information regarding the whereabouts of 99 individuals and highlighted the role of the army and intelligence agencies in the abductions. Hopes were raised among some Balochis, who believed that the Supreme Court and higher courts would begin to take action to locate the disappeared and punish the perpetrators. However, Musharraf dismissed the chief justice and several other justices, partly to forestall judicial activity on such cases, but mainly because he feared they would not rubber stamp a staged election which was to be held later that year.

“Under President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler from 1999 until 2008, the situation deteriorated markedly,” declares the HRW report. “Two assassination attempts on Musharraf in 2005 and 2006 during visits to Balochistan resulted in a crackdown on Baloch nationalists by the armed forces and Military Intelligence (MI), its lead intelligence agency in the province. These operations ultimately led to the killing in August 2006 of influential tribal chieftain Nawab Akbar Bugti and 35 of his close followers.”

Hopes were raised once again with the coming to power of a civilian government in 2008 led by the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). PPP leaders paid lip-service to provincial autonomy and pledged to improve social conditions in Balochistan through a series of half-measures including giving local government authorities a greater share of resource-industry revenue and increased funding for development. However, these limited measures have been rejected by Baloch nationalist leaders who’ve stated that they do not adequately address their core grievances or enable greater provincial autonomy. Social indicators in the province have not improved in the slightest since 2008.

Moreover, the PPP government has refused to take any action to stop the practice of enforced disappearances. “The national government has done little to end the carnage,” said HRW’s Asia director, Brad Adams. “President Asif Ali Zardari has to realize it cannot just be wished away.”

The HRW report has been contemptuously dismissed by the Pakistani army. “It is a one-sided report and we outrightly reject the conclusion drawn by this report,” said army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.

While the grievances of the Baloch people are entirely legitimate, the various nationalist and separatist groups who claim to defend their interests are themselves responsible for numerous atrocities. Besides attacking gas pipelines, railway lines and electricity networks, militant Baloch nationalists have carried out ethnically motivated and sectarian killings, especially in Quetta. Their main targets are overwhelmingly ordinary Punjabis and Pashtuns, who they deride as “settlers.” Punjabi-owned businesses and schools have been attacked throughout the province, with many educators viciously assaulted and murdered simply for their ethnicity. At least 100,000 people are believed to have fled Balochistan since 2008 due to communal violence.

The nationalist perspective of groups such as the BRP and BNF does not in any way express the interests of Balochi workers and toilers, but rather those of a tiny tribal elite. The eradication of oppression, poverty and inequality in Balochistan and throughout the country will only be achieved through the revolutionary mobilization of the working class and rural toilers, united across ethnic and religious lines and armed with a socialist and internationalist perspective. (courtesy wsws.org)

Pakistan: Unpleasant Pleasantries

There are question marks over Ilyasa Kashmiri's reported death
By SADAF ARSHAD*
New Delhi (Syndicate Features): No pleasantries to exchange and no truth to be told. One man, Saleem Shahzad is dead today and mysteriously buried under tons of mud leaving behind a wife with three kids and thousands of mourners. Another man, Ilyas Kahmiri, is reported to have been killed by a drone attack, but his family seeks proof of his death.

I do not intend to draw any comparison, but I still see some contrasting notions the way the society judges both men at the moment. Saleem, a brave and courageous journalist, has been murdered in the line of duty in a country which has been declared “the most dangerous place for journalists” by press freedom organisations. A true “martyr” he is who died in his pursuit of truth, which many will agree is “jihad”.

A true “martyr” he is who died in his pursuit of truth, which many will agree is “jihad”.

Ilyas Kashmiri is one of the most wanted men after Osama bin Laden (OBL). The US administration has safely refrained from confirming his death; whereas Pakistan’s prime minister, without having given any second thought, has confirmed this death.

Like Kashmiri’s family, many in Pakistan have faith in his Jihad (holy war) which he has been fighting against India and now Pakistan; and would always remember him as a martyr like OBL. In a country like Pakistan, where the majority feels pride in OBL’s knacks of scaring the world and believes in his ‘eternity,’ many Saleems will be forgotten.

Last week, the National Public Radio (NPR) from the United States did some stories to gauge the passion and views of Pakistanis on OBL. What struck me about the results was that hardly few believed that he was dead or could be killed.

Who therefore killed Saleem Shahzad? Who silenced the man who had always fought the ‘holy’ war with his pen and brought the truth about the PNS Mehran attack to the world.

All Pakistani fingers seem to point towards the dreaded ISI, which they say doesn’t seem to have learnt to cope with truth as yet.

All Pakistani fingers seem to point towards the dreaded ISI, which they say doesn’t seem to have learnt to cope with truth as yet. The memories of Hayatullah Khan, another press freedom martyr, are still fresh in the mind. It served as an eye-opener and was one of the first exposures to the horrors the agencies bring to a truth-seeker’s life.

Hayatullah’s revelation that an Al-Qaeda commander named Abu Hamza Rabia with other people was killed in a drone attack, was a reason strong enough for the ISI to eliminate him in 2006.

Today, the drones’ have become an accepted reality of Pakistan, despite all protests and hate speeches against the US. The drone attacks still violate the so-called sovereignty of Pakistan, but elimination of terrorists like Kashmiri boost the strategic alliance of both the countries. The ISI has been progressively virulent and many Hayatullahs and Saleems have tasted the sting.

Today, Ilays Kashmiri’s unconfirmed death is a boost to Pakistan’s intelligence, but it still cannot hide the embarrassment the OBL operation and the Mehran attack have brought to them.

It is a sinister fact that all attempts to control and monitor the ISI by any civilian government and all demands for its accountability have been silenced. Anyone who gets to the bottom of what the agencies are planning and performing under the popular theme of “national interest” are people like Hayatullah or Saleem. Only lucky victims like Umar Cheema get to live and relate their painful memories of torture and a persistent fear for the rest of his life.

In sheer frustration and hopelessness, what still amazes me is the fanatic absurdity and constant thirst for censorship of those who know how gigantic media has grown. Tweets are re-tweeted, statuses are shared, and bloggers blog endlessly; and in case of censorship, different proxies are used to access websites and blogs. In the nutshell, truth surfaces and resurfaces in all colours and shapes.

Hayatullah’s revelation that an Al-Qaeda commander named Abu Hamza Rabia with other people was killed in a drone attack, was a reason strong enough for the ISI to eliminate him in 2006.

Now the concepts of social media and citizen journalism have awakened a little watchdog in everyone who keeps an eye on the happenings. But Pakistan still manages to be among the countries where unlimited and unaccountable powers of institutions infringe freedom of speech and right to information.

I support any demand for an inquiry into Saleem’s killing, but I have failed to convince myself on who has the power to hold the agencies accountable. The ISI chief should appear in the Court to explain his position.

If the judiciary is now independent as stated, and is concerned with what the citizens of Pakistan face in the hands of the agencies, the country would witness sooner than later a miracle where the ISI heads would be summoned before the bar of the judiciary and face accountability without any interference. Yesterday’s shame of drones is today’s pride, but without Hayatullah. What Saleem reported and analysed will be accepted and appreciated a few years later but without Saleem. (Syndicate Features)

(*Executive Editor, South Asia Media Monitor. She blogs at www.sadafarshad.wordpress.com and can be reached at sadaf.arshad@gmail.com)

Who killed journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad ..?

By SAAD SARFRAZ SHEIKH*

Pak journalists protest in Lahore
(Syndicate Features): Pakistan continues to make headlines under the masthead of being the world’s deadliest country for journalists. Statistically, 16 journalists have been killed in Pakistan the past 14 months; some of the worst excesses occurred in the restive Balochistan province.

“These journalists work under extremely dangerous circumstances”, says noted Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi. The Friday Times Editor-in-Chief said that journalists are both “part of the problem and solution,” walking a fine line between reporting the public’s sentiments on Pakistan’s ongoing turmoil and reinforcing them. Sadly, what is being revealed by human rights groups (here) is that it isn’t just the terrorists and their activities that make Pakistan dangerous for journalists. In addition to anti-state elements (militants), state elements top the list for “abducting, beating, detaining, disappearing, threatening, torturing and murdering journalists, who dare to question their intervention and authority”.

40- year- old Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online’s Pakistan bureau chief, is the latest victim of the dangerous quest for honesty and truth. According to news reports, he was “picked up” in broad daylight in Islamabad on 29th May, as he was on his way to a television interview.

Fears grew for his safety after he was missing for more than 2 days, and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) believed him to be in the custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The HRW declared that Syed Saleem Shahzad could also be subjected to mistreatment and torture during “custody”. As ill-fate would have had it, police found his body in Mandi Bahauddin on Tuesday, May 31, about 150 kilometres southeast of Islamabad, days after he published an article that could have upset the powerful people at the centre of Pakistan’s war on terror.

“This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in South Asia. He has called for a “transparent investigation and court proceedings”.

The following quote from Shahzad’s final article gives an idea of just how embarrassing his latest revelations might have been to several powerful parties.

Another view of the journos protest in Lahore
‘Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on 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. At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces. The naval base assault was a humiliation for the Pakistani army, which battled for 17 hours against at least four heavily armed men, who blew up two surveillance planes and killed 10 soldiers’.

In a follow-up to this despatch, Shahzad had planned to explain the recruitment and training of militants. Sadly, that never happened.

As we dig into the archives of Shahzad’s bold reportage, an experience that brought him dangerously close to the dark world of Al Qaeda, Taliban and extremists’ links to Pakistani politics and security – where he often took great personal risks to deliver his unique insights, we realize the immense research and information Saleem Shehzad possessed. An expert on the Al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISI, Pakistan Army, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Islam and Lashkar-e-Taiba, his prolific journey as a reporter is as deeply rooted as the problems he focussed on.

Who will be the next target is the worry amongst Pak Journos
It is pretty obvious that he ruffled many a feathers and his honest reporting made many uncomfortable. Brief detention by the Taliban in 2006 allowed him to interview their big fish, which included Taliban commanders Sirajuddin Haqqani, Qari Ziaur Rahman, Baitullah Mehsud and Ilyas Kashmiri, who leads Al-Qaeda’s operational arm through his 313 Brigade and is suspected to be the mastermind behind the 2008 terrorist rampage that left more than 160 dead in Mumbai.

Saleem found his true calling while reporting on the symbiosis of the ISI and Taliban factions on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Recently, he focused on militant loyalists within the armed forces of Pakistan, mentioning their human resource operations and changes. His reportage has brought ISI’s former strategic asset Ilyas Kashmiri into focus, as he is now seen as the operational in-charge responsible for establishing Al-Qaeda-Taliban “terror cells”.

Saleem Shehzad may not have been targeted by the ISI, but he was surely being monitored as a potential threat by all the stakeholders. Fellow journalists reacted angrily to his death, which is not merely the murder of a journalist; but the murder of truth itself.

People are now directly accusing the ISI on television and social media forums. “Any journalist here (Pakistan) who doesn’t believe that it’s our intelligence agencies?” tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author.

Salim Shahzad death not invain - reads the plycard
The sad thing is that Saleem isn’t the first, nor will he be the last Pakistani journalist to face such dangers to life. Last September, Umar Cheema, an investigative reporter for The News International , was kidnapped, blindfolded, stripped naked, had his head and eyebrows shaved, beaten up, filmed in humiliating positions and dumped on the side of the road six hours later.

“If you can’t avoid rape”, one of his interrogators jeered during the ordeal, “enjoy it”. The perpetrators were never found, but when asked about his suspicions, Cheema told the New York Times: ‘I have suspicions and every journalist has suspicions that all fingers point to the ISI’.

Cheema is more concerned than ever for his own safety. ‘Obviously I feel really vulnerable’ he says. ‘We need an independent commission to look into [Shahzad’s death]’.

One of the primary reasons as to why people majorly suspect the ISI is that the kind of operation in which Syed Saleem Shahzad lost his life, doesn’t seem to be the work of militant groups known for spot killings or abductions that end up in Waziristan, but of the intelligence agencies.

Shahzad was known to have sources both within the Pakistan’s intelligence community and among Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. Last October, the journalist had been called for a meeting at the ISI headquarters after he had written an article that claimed the Pakistani authorities had released from custody Afghan Taliban military commander Mullah Baradar to negotiate with the Pakistan army.

Shahzad said the mood at the meeting, at which he was asked for but declined to reveal the sources for his article, was polite but that at the end one of the senior officers had said to him: “I must give you a favour. We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, dairies and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know.”

Ali Dayan Hasan of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the journalist had taken these words as a threat. “He told me he was being followed and that he was getting threatening telephone calls and that he was under intelligence surveillance,” Hasan told Reuters. “We can’t say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI and [we have] every reason to believe that that threat was credible.”

One of the ISI’s media wing officials who attended the meeting and questioned Shahzad was Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, a naval officer.

On Monday, May 30, Pakistani intelligence officials told journalists that they had picked up Kamran Ahmed Malik, a former navy commando, in Lahore on May 27, Friday. Malik and his brother have been detained in connection with the investigation. While Malik has not been formally charged, it is widely reported that he is being held for questioning about his links to both the terrorists and former colleagues inside the navy.

When contacted on Thursday June 2 night, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir declined to comment on the raid or the death of Shahzad, saying “I don’t speak to anyone.”

Many say that if the ISI isn’t involved in the murder, then it should at least help in identifying and capturing the killers. Why? Because, it has to. And it alone can.

Amid chants of ‘Yay jo deshatgardi hay, iskay peechay wardi hay (Militancy is backed by the military) ringing around the Lahore Press Club, Pakistani journalists find themselves in a concatenation of cross fires. There is a new fear, and the government is in no mood to protect the journalists. The only official reaction is Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s suggestion that journalists should be allowed to carry small firearms for their self-defence.

As public outrage intensifies, the ISI, in a rare clarification, has felt that it needs to make its voice heard. On June 2, a senior ISI official told the government news agency, Associated Press, that allegations of the agency’s involvement were absurd. He said allegations that its operatives were behind the abduction and killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad were baseless, and vowed to help bring the perpetrators to justice. He denied that the agency had made any threats to the journalist and described Saleem Shahzad’s death as “unfortunate and tragic” and a “source of concern for the entire nation.” The intelligence official was unnamed in accordance with the nature of his job.

The ISI, which has been accused of multiple human rights abuses against journalists and political activists in Pakistan, said it was regrettable that some sections of the media had levelled such allegations against the agency. It called on them to act responsibly and suggested that it may consider taking legal action against them.

The official said that a meeting between ISI officials and Shahzad in October was part of the media wing’s mandate to keep in touch with members of the media and that it represented nothing sinister.

The only problem with this version of events is Shahzad’s last written testament to Human Rights Watch in Pakistan some months ago in which he communicated his fear that the ISI, rather than some unknown forces, had warned him off for wading into troubled waters and might exact punishment. Additionally, his wife has confirmed that a senior ISI officer was in touch with her husband and had even “interrogated” him some time ago.

Hopes for any inquiry, however, are low. Although the ISI technically reports to Prime Minister Gilani, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani. Although accused of numerous human rights abuses over the years, serving ISI officials have never been prosecuted.

Waseem Shahzad, Saleem’s younger brother, says ‘Nobody can say my brother backed down because of threats or bribes. He paid the ultimate sacrifice’.

Saleem Shahzad is survived by his wife, Anita, and three children. His widow wants no autopsy nor any charges filed against anyone. (Syndicate Features)

(*The author, Saad Sarfraz Sheikh, is an independent journalist and a reputed photographer based in Lahore. He can be reached at saadsarfrazsheikh@gmail.com)