In what seems to a despicable attack on freedom of expression, journalist Saleem Shahzad has been brutally killed. According to his family, the Asia Times Online and Adnkronos International reporter had been missing since the evening of May 29 when he left his house to go to the office of a TV channel to appear in a show. The journalist was picked up just days after he wrote his last report, in which he made some explosive allegations regarding the PNS Mehran attack. He had claimed that the attack had been carried out by the 313 Brigade of al Qaeda, headed by Ilyas Kashmiri, and was in retaliation for detention of navy personnel for alleged terrorist links. He had also claimed that it followed a breakdown in contact between the navy and al Qaeda over this issue.
Following the disappearance, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that through its own channels it had been able to establish that Shahzad had been picked up by intelligence agencies. While it may be too early to speculate on those responsible for the reporter’s death, it is worth pointing out that he had over the years reported on the terror war, jihadi and extremist organizations and related topics normally deemed ‘sensitive’ in the Pakistani media. According to HRW, some months ago, following a story that he did on Mullah Baradar’s arrest and apparent release, he said that he had been questioned by officials of an intelligence agency who were keen to know the sources of his reports. The reporter is not the first to be killed in such circumstances. In 2006, Fata journalist Hayatullah Khan was killed after being kidnapped by unknown gunmen, and the case remains unsolved to this day. He had prior to his death reported on a drone strike and had taken pictures of remnants of a missile.
Clearly, Pakistan is a very dangerous country for journalists, especially those who cover issues such as terrorism. This involves mediating the terrain between the various jihadi outfits on one hand and the security and intelligence apparatus on the other. This incident must not be allowed to become just another number on the list of dead journalists. An independent commission drawn from the government, civil society and media should investigate it and make the findings public.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2011.