The purpose of government commissions, it seems, is to obfuscate rather than illuminate. They exist not to investigate but to give the impression of hard work. So, it was in the case of the judicial commission investigating the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad. The commission was supposed to find out who was responsible for the killing but in its final report has declined to do so. It was meant to wrap up in six weeks but has ended up taking six months. In the end, all the suspicions everyone had after Mr Shahzad was murdered remain but we are no closer to the truth. The commission has recommended giving Rs3 million in compensation to the dead journalist’s family but it has denied them the opportunity of getting justice.
The investigative process of the commission was flawed from the start. It faced inordinate and unexplainable delays in getting Mr Shahzad’s email and cell phone data, information that may have been crucial in solving his case but which could well have been scrubbed of anything incriminating by the intelligence agencies. When he was murdered, the initial reaction among journalists and human rights groups was to blame the military, since Mr Shahzad’s reporting focused on its alleged ties to militants. Indeed, just two days before he was killed, he had written a story on the infiltration of al Qaeda in the Pakistan Navy. The commission’s inconclusive report will do little to allay those suspicions.
By failing its mandate, the judicial commission has also failed in its task to help out vulnerable journalists. Having seen that a prominent reporter can be killed with no consequences for those involved is sure to have a chilling effect on the profession. Will those who report critically on the military refrain from doing so in the future for fear that they may end up in a ditch somewhere? The commission has also shown Mr Shahzad’s killers, whoever they may be, that they can operate with impunity. Already, Pakistan has been described as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists by Reporters without Frontiers, with 10 journalists having been killed here in the last decade. The failure of the commission may have ended up making it just a little more dangerous.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2012.