For all the talk of unfettered media freedoms in Pakistan, the tragic death of Saleem Shahzad makes it obvious that this is essentially a myth. Facing a barrage of accusations stating it had a hand in the abduction of Shahzad from Islamabad, and the consequent dumping of his body — with torture marks visible on it — in a canal, the ISI has issued an unusual denial stating it had nothing to do with the matter and making vague declarations about media irresponsibility and a need to defend ‘national interests’.
This badly overused term is one that arouses anger. We should have realised by now that the interests of our country can be served only by telling the truth. Shahzad, who died at the peak of his career, was trying to do just that. The ISI statement makes matters even more suspicious. This is especially true given the stories that Shahzad was working on in his final days. Reports say these were related to events at PNS Mehran, the al Qaeda link to the plot and its goal to force the release of navy men held for terrorist links. A previous story that had annoyed the ISI was one regarding the release of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar by Pakistani authorities. This had led to the journalist being summoned by the ISI and, after a ‘talking to’, he was delivered a warning that he was on the ‘hit list’ of terrorists.
Saleem Shahzad’s violent death in these circumstances leaves open a lot of very dark questions. They need to be answered. It is unsafe to ignore them. The perils of this have been seen before. The death of journalist Hayatullah Khan in 2006, in North Waziristan, remains unsolved. Then, as is the case now, the hand of the intelligence agencies was suspected. Many others have received warnings, or been ‘roughed up’. Most opt to stay away from reporting on such matters because they value their lives and know that not many people or groups will come to their protection. Saleem Shahzad did not do so. Is this why he met his terrible end? We need to know.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.
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