Since the judicial inquiry has been unable to identify people responsible, it is time we step forward. We killed Saleem Shahzad. If you read the report carefully, it lays the blame on us. It blames us for doubting the country’s intelligence agencies for the murder of a journalist, because of course, they can never be held in doubt, let alone be responsible, or worse be at fault.
Let me explain: the most consistent feature of the report is perhaps the way in which it attacks Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Hameed Haroon for being responsible for ‘casting’ doubts on the country’s intelligence agency. Following the failure of the judicial commission in identifying culprits involved in Saleem Shahzad’s murder, the HRW released a report, demanding the government to take every step possible to identify the culprits and that the judicial commission appeared fearful of confronting the ISI.
The claims of the HRW aren’t unsubstantiated and it has documented these incidents. They can be substantiated by the stories of the missing people, the condition of the Adiala eleven detainees; there are innumerable instances to support these claims. Yet, instead of taking note of the concerns of human rights organisations, The ISPR did what it always does most effectively, demonise the critic, cast doubt on their integrity and — in this instance — resort to not-so-veiled threats. Its press release said: “With this press release, HRW appears to have seriously jeopardised the bipartisan and objective nature of its work. It will be in fitness of things to expect HRW to withdraw this biased statement…”
Not denying its right to refute claims alleging the ISI’s involvement, the harsh language and the demand of withdrawal reflects uneasiness and anger of being held accountable or criticised. The situation begs to ask a simple question: If a man leaves a note naming people responsible in case of his death, is abducted and killed in a pattern known to be signatory of the accused, and a judicial inquiry fails to name the culprit, what are human rights activists, people in general or the media supposed to deduce?
The fact that a culture of complete lack of accountability of certain institutions is perhaps responsible for the perception that there is more to it than meets the eye in the case of the murdered journalist. Now, if those who brought forward evidence of harassment are being held responsible, we must step forward and accept equal responsibility. We are at fault, for not demanding that the ISI focus on counter terrorism and intelligence, rather than chasing journalists and human right activists, and for always believing and helping propagate the fallacy that demanding accountability is akin to demonising our soldiers and overlooking their sacrifices, and for not questioning when we ought to be and for isolating those that do.
The light is at the end of the tunnel is a deception unless we own up to our mistakes and vow to mend them.
If the guns are being blazed at human rights activists and media heads for helping the judicial inquiry with the evidence they had, if their integrity is being put at stake, if they are being blamed for seeking justice, then the least we can do is support them, step up, lest they be isolated.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.