Pakistan’s ISI murders journalist Saleem Shahzad

Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad has paid the ultimate price for exposing links between the Pakistani military and Al Qaeda. Shahzad was killed, probably by the Pakistani intelligence service for embarrassing them in the media. The 40-year-old father of three was the Pakistan bureau chief of the Hong Kong-based Asia Times online and an expert on Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. He was kidnapped two days after his investigative report about al Qaeda’s 17-hour attack last week on a naval air base at Karachi and found murdered two days later. The attack was carried out to avenge the arrest of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al Qaeda links. (photo: AP/ Shah Khalid)
In Shahzad’s last article he said the underlying motive for the attack was a reaction to crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy. Shahzad revealed that several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell inside navy bases in Karachi. An anonymous senior navy official told him Islamic sentiments were common in the armed forces. “While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces,” the source said. “That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities.” Shahzad also revealed negotiations between naval officers and an Al-Qaeda operative in North Waziristan.
A few days later Shahzad went missing in Islamabad. He was driving his Toyota Corolla to the Dunya TV Studios to participate in a current affairs show that Sunday evening but he never made it. According to Pakistan’s The News, the kidnappers overpowered him and took him in his own car past three police checkpoints and three toll plazas where police are also usually present. They dumped his body in the Jhelum canal 100km north of Islamabad where it got entangled in the net placed to recover the bodies of drowning victims in the canal. The kidnappers then travelled to Sarai Alamgir 150km southeast of the capital where they abandoned the vehicle. The body was found late Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch said Shahzad was held by the Pakistani intelligence organisation the Inter-Services Intelligence. Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had complained about being threatened by the ISI. “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,” Hasan told AFP.“We can form an opinion after the investigation and a court verdict, but… in the past the ISI has been involved in similar incidents.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was alarmed and angered by the targeted killing. They said Pakistan had the most journalists deaths in the world in 2010. Shahzad is the 15th to die since the 2002 killing of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. On May 3 (World Press Freedom Day), a CPJ delegation met with President Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik to press for a reversal of the abysmal record of impunity with which journalist are killed in Pakistan. “Zardari and Malik pledged to address the vast problem of uninvestigated and unprosecuted targeted killings of journalists,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “With the murder of Saleem Shahzad, now is the time for them to step forward and take command of this situation.”

As the Daily Beast notes, Shahzad covered a dangerous beat and landed many exclusive stories. In 2008 he interviewed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who died in a drone strike the following year. A year later, he interviewed Ilyas Kashmiri, the al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist who masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attack. Shahzad had just published latest book, Inside al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11, to much critical acclaim. Historian Gareth Porter said his unique knowledge and contacts made his writing a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to understand Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

Shahzad’s editor said Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed deep grief and sorrow over his death but doubted anything would come of it. “It will be business as usual in a country that had the most journalist deaths in the world in 2010,” the editor said. “As long as this appalling record continues, and Pakistan mouths platitudes while its security apparatus – whether directly or though subcontracting – runs rampant, the country will never be viewed as a trusted partner, as the United States has learned over and over again in the 10 tortuous years that it has been forced into an embrace with Islamabad.” Syed Saleem Shahzad learned brutally just how rampant that apparatus is.

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