Rest in peace, Saleem Shahzad

Published: June 2, 2011

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Studies Programme

Saturday May 28 wasn’t much fun. My flight had been cancelled on a sunny day and the thought of driving back to Lahore was not amusing. I was all packed and waiting for the car when the phone rang. It was Syed Saleem Shahzad.

I wanted to kick myself in the shin for forgetting to email him the numbers of a publishing house in Lahore that Saleem wanted to contact for an Urdu translation of his book on al Qaeda. I began our conversation with an apology when he cut me mid-sentence: “No issues, Ejaz bhai. I know you are busy. How are you?” he asked.

When I told him I was headed back to Lahore after a conference, he wasn’t pleased and made his displeasure known in the only way he knew: Respectfully and disarmingly. “So, next I am in Lahore, perhaps I shouldn’t inform you.” We chatted for a while about his book and then he asked me for Khaled Ahmed’s number which I said I’d text him. I still have his text with the prompt “thank you” reply in my phone. My heart aches.

All of us know about his reporting skills and his intrepidness. But what endeared him to me was his absolute humility, a trait generally rare and rarer still in our profession where the TV has turned 20-somethings into cat’s whiskers for reasons that are as deep and lasting as lines in the sand.

But Saleem was another generation. Bylines were hard to come by, unlike today, the basics of the craft were still practised and seniors were respected. His knowledge of the areas he covered was extensive and intensive. It was begot of travels in the field and cultivating deep sources over a long time. But never did his knowledge boil over or make him haughty. In fact, unless pressed, he never spoke and even then, too shyly.

In 2007, when I hosted a programme for Dawn News, then an English-language channel, I called Saleem and said I wanted him on the panel. He was very reluctant to be on camera. But I managed to browbeat him into it and to my knowledge it was one of his first TV appearances. Later, he began making more regular TV appearances and I sometimes joked with him about his initial camera-shyness.

He would often call me to share something and was my first stop for corroborating information. One thing that I noticed early on was that when he spoke about something that he hadn’t checked with multiple sources, he would always say, “Ejaz bhai, I am not sure about this but this is circulating.” He knew his trade and was cautious. Yet, as I told him a few times, he did go out on a limb and wrote things that didn’t pan out the way he said they would. But I also knew that he played at the deep end in very murky waters and not even the best can always get it right.

We were together in London two months ago for a conference at the War Studies Department of King’s College. On the second day of the conference, we walked from Strand, taking the inner streets to Covent Garden and then to Trafalgar Square. At the Square, the shy Saleem suddenly said to me, “Ejaz bhai, aik tasweer ho jai.” I said, sure. He stood there and I took a picture. When I showed him the photo on my camera, he wanted another one with a close-up. The day the news of his murder was flashed on TV channels, I opened his picture on my laptop and there he was, smiling at the camera. That’s how I want to remember him.

We spent that evening together with some other friends and had dinner later. After dinner, I was to accompany a friend to the Embankment Station and leave for Oxford the next day. He was tired. So I embraced him and said I will now meet him in Pakistan. That was my last meeting with him and while back in Pakistan we spoke on the phone, I could not meet him. How I wish I had seen him in Islamabad. How I wish I wasn’t writing this. How I wish I could review his book, as he wanted me to, and get a call from him. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.

Reader Comments (36)

  • White Russian
    Jun 2, 2011 - 11:45PM

    Saleem, I knew you only through the website which published your stories. You always puzzled me: are you writing with the consent of powers that be? If not, how do you manage to deal with them? May be, you are so brave. May be you are just another spin doctor who safely writes about what is intended to be leaked. I thought you were one more enigma in this enigmatic country.

    But no. You proved with your death that you were only brave. And unfortunately a bit reckless. Your recklessness costed this country a very brave and very professional man. This loss is even more unbearable given the dearth of very brave and very professional. RIP.Recommend

  • Humanity
    Jun 3, 2011 - 12:26AM

    Your story corroborates the impression that Saleem Shehzad was a human first and fore most. His service to Pakistan is commendable. I wonder if the nation even realizes who they have lost.

    May God bless his soul, accept his honesty and integrity and be the guardian of his bereaved family.

    Pakistan has indeed fallen into a deep, dark abyss.Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jun 3, 2011 - 12:40AM

    This is very touching.

    In my very brief aquaintance with him, I grew to admire his courage and tenacity. I wish — and maybe his family does too — he had taken up a more mundane and less risky subject as his calling. Recommend

  • Jun 3, 2011 - 12:50AM

    touchingRecommend

  • Ahmer
    Jun 3, 2011 - 12:54AM

    Really saddening.Recommend

  • Taboo
    Jun 3, 2011 - 1:34AM

    In this age, the honest;
    can keep their word;
    but not the head!Recommend

  • Hedgefunder
    Jun 3, 2011 - 2:09AM

    Hear !!! Hear !!!!
    Mr Haider, the very idea of acknowledgeing a very competant and decent human being is one thing, but to also acknowledge the quality and integrity of such an wonderful person is all together another matter
    He was not intimidated by the forces, who tried to shut him up and would have always held his esteem in his reporting journalistic views and opinions and there will be no doubt vacuum in Pakistani Journalism due to his demise !!!
    This man was not scared!! He scared others!!! May He Rest In Peace and My sincere condolences to his Family for their Lose.
    This is not just a lose of human being, but a serious lose of genuine journalism in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Maheen Sabeeh
    Jun 3, 2011 - 2:30AM

    Heartbreaking pieceRecommend

  • liverpool lad
    Jun 3, 2011 - 7:29AM

    touching ejaz, very touching. and very sad what happened. from this side of the border it looks like a huge tragedy, there is must be worse.
    m s Recommend

  • Jun 3, 2011 - 8:09AM

    Now doubt Ejaz sahib, you are right and this is a gruesome murder and a question mark for journalists community in Pakistan as they are being targeted either by extremists or even by law enforcement agencies without any hope to get justice over their murders. Your article really sympathetic and impressive and this shows that the true feelings need not flowery language to express them. Recommend

  • MAK Lodhi
    Jun 3, 2011 - 8:23AM

    It is very sad that the prolific writer says nothing about the culprits. As a journalist friend of Syed Saleem Shahzad he was duty bound to do it. But who can raise a finger at ISI, that’s question. It is therefore very non-journalistic not even to ask for a probe about his killers.
    Who is interested in knowing that the writer knew the murdered journalist? Tribune should be ashamed of such a spineless earthworm-like piece.
    MAK LodhiRecommend

  • Analyst
    Jun 3, 2011 - 8:26AM

    I see Mr Ejaz has carefully avoided talking about his most brutal, cold blooded murder or about the threats Mr Salim had received. Recommend

  • Nadir Khan
    Jun 3, 2011 - 8:42AM

    RIP Saleem Shahzad. There isn’t going to be any ‘justice’ here, that’s for sure – ‘Azad ‘Adliyah’ notwithstanding.Recommend

  • Saima
    Jun 3, 2011 - 8:54AM

    A Pretty Good Tribute!Recommend

  • mind control
    Jun 3, 2011 - 9:26AM

    Heartfelt.
    May his death not be in vain.Recommend

  • Imran
    Jun 3, 2011 - 9:28AM

    I leave this page with eyes full of tears although I did not personally know this person. While we say R.I.P, we don’t probably realize it’s we who are not in peace. Anymore. Recommend

  • AYYAZ ABBAS
    Jun 3, 2011 - 10:03AM

    Saleem Shehzad is source of inspiration and his courage and bravery will never be forgotten. Peace loving People of Pakistan loved Saleem Shehzad from the core of their heart.Saleem Shehzad’s assassination is the death of reason. Recommend

  • Saad Durrani
    Jun 3, 2011 - 11:57AM

    What an obituary!

    @Analyst Quite insensitive of you, my friend.Recommend

  • mente
    Jun 3, 2011 - 12:08PM

    @anlyst: like he said he wants to remebr a smiling saleem shahzad, and this was more of an obitury than analsis. you shud read his article in todays pakistan todayRecommend

  • Jun 3, 2011 - 12:44PM

    For me it is like Salman Taseer all over again. I wish I had known of them when they were alive – difficult for an outsider but such brave men need to be celebrated. In a new book on Pakistan – titled: Pakistan: a hard country, the author argues that Pakistan is a country built on kinship loyalties that will prevent any large scale revolution of the Egyptian variety. The downside of this kinship business is that people go out on a limb only for their ‘biradari’. So to have people like Salman taseer who went out on a limb for a Christian woman who was part of his humanitarian biradari at best is a rare blessing. Saleem Shahzad was obviously earning a good sum as a journalist but to continue in the face of such threats takes a rare degree of courage. I only wish he had approached the Interior minister instead of the Human rights guys. For all his faults, the Interior minister has protected Haider the cricketeer etc. Recommend

  • Jun 3, 2011 - 12:47PM

    Sad…):Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Jun 3, 2011 - 12:59PM

    RIP Saleem Shehzad, our condolences to Salems’s family, I for one always enjoyed his writings and owe him gratitude for keeping us aware of the reality that is being kept hidden. Recommend

  • Reasoner
    Jun 3, 2011 - 1:18PM

    Touching …… but wondering why there isn’t any condemnation of the killers ?
    Shaheed Saleem Shahzad’s email of 18th Oct, 2010 sent to HRW and APNS should be treated as his dying statement ……. Ejaz Sb if you are Saleems Shahzad’s why didn’t you demanded the same !!!!Recommend

  • Shahid Khan
    Jun 3, 2011 - 3:12PM

    Ijaz Sahib,

    You have not mentioned if Saleem Shahzad shard any threats to his life, if he was so close to you. You have not mentioned his email, which is already public, exposing the killers. Why you want to make it mystery. Who is the culprit? RAW, MOSAD, AMREEKA or our own ISI? Say something to educate us, silence about killers is no ‘fraandship’ with Saleem Shahzad! Recommend

  • SD
    Jun 3, 2011 - 3:26PM

    Touching.. Very touching….Recommend

  • alijuan
    Jun 3, 2011 - 4:08PM

    “@anlyst: like he said he wants to remebr a smiling saleem shahzad, and this was more of an obitury than analsis. you shud read his article in todays pakistan today”..

    mente my friend,
    I have read Mr Haider’s piece in Pakistan Today and I think it’s about time one understands the framework under which Mr Haider operates; as a proponent of realpolitiks he believes in the sanctity of the state above all else (above, I must say, other considerations such as democracy, people, rights etc)..in the specific context of Pakistan, the sanctity of the state inevitably means the sanctity of the dominant institution within the state, i.e. the Army

    this seriously limits his criticisms of the status quo as well as his visions of the future, at best his is a friendly, internal critique of the military establishment, at worst, pure apologetics..take a look at his debates with Ayesha Siddiqa and others on the establishment and you will always find him defending ‘orderly transition’ (the kind taking place in Egypt today), ‘taking the military on board’, ‘protecting the writ of the state’ etc etc and the same framework was reflected in his article today; he basically argued that the ISI was most likely not responsible for the murder of SS (after the prominent baloch nationalist Sana Dashtiyari was killed two days ago in a similar manner, even fewer people will be willing to believe that) saying that the ‘ISI’ deserves a fair hearing on the SS case..Need i say more Recommend

  • Shafqat Cheema
    Jun 3, 2011 - 4:44PM

    Totally agree with MAK Lodhi and Analyst.
    Don’t we know whose side he’s on? His views are common knowledge and not surprising in the least.
    http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2011/06/whodunit-isi/Recommend

  • White Russian
    Jun 3, 2011 - 8:18PM

    @Shafqat Cheema:
    Ejaz’s narrative in his pakistantoday piece may be correct, if, the long list of ifs in this narrative turns out to be as Ejaz speculated. I can knit a whole new counter narrative with a different set of ifs it would appear even more plausible. Recommend

  • M.Srinath Reddy
    Jun 3, 2011 - 8:32PM

    @MAK Lodhi:
    You have hit the nail. As a regular reader and admirer of Shehzad, I found only personal reminiscences and little else in this piece, Very few journalists like Najam Sethi have come out unequivocally on Shehzad’s murder. In any other country, intellectuals and intelligentsia would have hit the roads. Wonder if Pakistanis know the value of Shehzad and understand the implications of his murder. This episode is chillingly close to the narration of Greek politics in Costa Gavras-directed movie “Z”. Having tasted the blood of an internationally reputed scribe and got away with it, the killer will not rest, Recommend

  • Abbas from the US
    Jun 3, 2011 - 11:28PM

    Mr Haider,
    Thanks for sharing some of your professional/personal moments with Syed Saleem Shazad with your readers. Initially when I started reading him several years ago, I was convinced that he was being financially compensated by the agencies. His writings always appeared to somone with a waning personal connection to Pakistan but interested enough in his roots, as an alternate view not exactly repesenting the establishment but yet insightful enough to be fed from the corridors of connections to the strategic thinkers.
    But over the years without dwelling at all on the personal rigors associated with the practice of journalism as Western journalists tend to do in the very rustic surroundings of South Asia. He managed to convey the ideological driven convictions of some heavyweights in this war, at the journalistic levels of Fisk, and Bergen.
    I do plan to buy his book, once it is available in the US and at the same time make a token contribution to the fund created by the editors and management of ATOL. But the best tribute to this extraordinary journalist will be the continuation of the work that the Pakistani journalists produce in the Daily Times and now I am begining to read in the Express Tribune. Please don’t let the dangers and pressures that people like you are subjected to during the course of your work, make you tone down your comments.
    Thank you once again yourself and Syed Saleem Shazad.Recommend

  • Shock horror
    Jun 4, 2011 - 1:09AM

    Ejaz Haider
    Good description of your friendship with Salim Shahzad and your tribute to him. It is hardly surprising that you do not hit the nail on the head in relation to the institution squarely responsible for his murder. Instead you dance around the subject. But then you have to look out for your own safety, just in case you say too much and the powers that maybe decide to take you next. So continue to be afraid, very afraid!Recommend

  • pl/sql
    Jun 4, 2011 - 1:25AM

    Yeah don’t mention the ISI though.Recommend

  • waqas
    Jun 4, 2011 - 1:45AM

    when you wana make life wreked and miserable of any nation, make that nation against it “sippa saalars” i.e. FOJ ( the great SULTAN SALH UD DIN AYOBI ).

    think about it atleast for onceRecommend

  • Waquar Z
    Jun 5, 2011 - 6:46AM

    The condolences due to the family of Mr. Shahzad is understandable.
    What isn’t conscionable is the collective cop-out we undertake here … online.
    “Rest in Peace …”? No, he will not rest in peace.
    Seems like we are only encouraging each other by saying (Let us live) ” … in peace.”
    Double standard and insecurity … such are the luxuries we permit ourselves.
    Many on this forum, know of and are related to people who are in the army.
    Who either serve in that institution, or benefit socially /financially
    and either directly or indirectly gain by the presence of
    their friends / family / relations in that institution. Conflict of interest, anyone?
    How often have you taken them to account. No! How often have you been accountable?
    How often have you been the conscientious objector to the harm being done to Pakistan?
    How many times have you spoken truth to power? If the answer is no … and protestations
    on this digital forum do not count … then your ‘dua’ for the ‘peace’ of Saleem Shahzad,
    is nothing but a charade. But, if we want the likes of Saleem Shahzad,
    and EVERY PAKISTANI JOURNALIST to be safe and free to do the bold task they do,
    then we need to strengthen their hands and make strong their security and standing
    in society. The army and the intelligence is a good and necessary place to start.
    But then, let us start … not with a dua for grace on Saleem Shahzad,
    but with a demand for punishing Shahzad’s murderers. Recommend

  • Haymie J
    Jun 5, 2011 - 11:29AM

    Rest In Peace Syed Saleem Shahzad May Your Eternal Soul Already Be in Paradise.Recommend

  • shair khan
    Jun 8, 2011 - 5:42AM

    What a loss of a great person… may allah rest you in peace..Recommend

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