Posts Tagged ‘ Syed Saleem Shahzad ’

Dying to Tell the Story

By Umar Cheema for The New York Times

WE have buried another journalist. Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter for Asia Times Online, has paid the ultimate price for telling truths that the authorities didn’t want people to hear. He disappeared a few days after writing an article alleging that Al Qaeda elements had penetrated Pakistan’s navy and that a military crackdown on them had precipitated the May 22 terrorist attack on a Karachi naval base. His death has left Pakistani journalists shaken and filled with despair.

I couldn’t sleep the night that Saleem’s death was confirmed. The fact that he was tortured sent me back to a chilly night last September, when I was abducted by government agents. During Saleem’s funeral service, a thought kept haunting me: “It could have been me.”

Mourning journalists lined up after the service to console me, saying I was lucky to get a lease on life that Saleem was denied. But luck is a relative term.

Adil, my 2-year-old son, was the first person in my thoughts after I was abducted. Journalists in Pakistan don’t have any institutionalized social security system; those killed in the line of duty leave their families at the mercy of a weak economy.

When my attackers came, impersonating policemen arresting me on a fabricated charge of murder, I felt helpless. My mouth muzzled and hands cuffed, I couldn’t inform anybody of my whereabouts, not even the friends I’d dropped off just 15 minutes before. My cellphone was taken away and switched off. Despite the many threats I’d received, I never expected this to happen to me.

Sure, I had written many stories exposing the corrupt practices of high-ranking officials and pieces criticizing the army and the intelligence agencies. After they were published, Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s prime security agency, always contacted me. I was first advised not to write too much about them and later sent messages laced with subtle threats. But I never imagined action was imminent.

On Sept. 4, I was driven to an abandoned house instead of a police station, where I was stripped naked and tortured with a whip and a wooden rod. While a man flogged me, I asked what crime had brought me this punishment. Another man told me: “Your reporting has upset the government.” It was not a crime, and therefore I did not apologize.

Instead, I kept praying, “Oh God, why am I being punished?” The answer came from the ringleader: “If you can’t avoid rape, enjoy it.” He would employ abusive language whenever he addressed me.

“Have you ever been tortured before?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“These marks will stay with you forever, offering you a reminder never to defy the authorities,” he replied.

They tortured me for 25 minutes, shaved my head, eyebrows and moustache and then filmed and photographed my naked body. I was dumped nearly 100 miles outside Islamabad with a warning not to speak up or face the consequences.

The following months were dreadful. I suffered from a sleep disorder. I would wake up fearing that someone was beating my back. I wouldn’t go jogging, afraid that somebody would pick me up again and I’d never return. Self-imposed house arrest is the life I live today; I don’t go outside unless I have serious business. I have been chased a number of times after the incident. Now my son asks me questions about my attackers that I don’t answer. I don’t want to sow the seeds of hatred in his heart.

When Saleem disappeared, I wondered if he had been thinking about his children, as I had. He had left Karachi, his hometown, after receiving death threats, and settled with his wife and three children in Islamabad. From there, he often went on reporting trips to the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Tahir Ali, a mutual friend, would ask him: “Don’t you feel scared in the tribal areas?” Saleem would smile and say: “Death could come even in Islamabad.” His words were chilling, and prescient.

The killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad is yet another terrifying reminder to Pakistani journalists. He is the fifth to die in the first five months of 2011. Journalists are shot like stray dogs in Pakistan — easily killed because their assassins sit at the pinnacle of power.

When Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered by militants in Karachi in 2002, his case was prosecuted and four accomplices to the crime were sentenced. This happened only because Mr. Pearl was an American journalist. Had he been a Pakistani, there would have been no justice.

Today, impunity reigns and no organization is powerful enough to pressure the government to bring Saleem’s killers to justice. Journalists have shown resilience, but it is hard to persevere when the state itself becomes complicit in the crime. Now those speaking up for Saleem are doing so at a price: they are being intimidated and harassed.

Pakistan is at a crossroads and so is its news media. In a situation of doom and gloom, Pakistani journalists offer a ray of hope to their fellow citizens and they have earned the people’s trust. Even the former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has admitted that people who once went to the police with complaints now go to the press.

But this trust will be eroded if journalists continue to be bullied into walking away from the truth. News organizations throughout the world must join hands in seeking justice for Saleem and ending the intelligence agencies’ culture of impunity. An award for investigative journalists should be created in his honor, as was done for Daniel Pearl. No stronger message could be delivered to his killers than making him immortal.

Umar Cheema is an investigative reporter at The News International, Pakistan’s largest English-language daily. He was a Daniel Pearl Fellow at The Times in 2008.

Pakistan Leaders Must Make Choice After Clinton’s Warning

By The Bloomberg News Editorial Board

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan last week, she noted that U.S.- Pakistani relations were at a turning point after the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was up to the Pakistanis, she said, to decide “what kind of country they wish to live in.”

The brutalized body of investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, which turned up outside of Islamabad on May 31, may provide a clue to the answer.
Shahzad disappeared after publishing the first of two promised articles linking elements of the Pakistan navy to al- Qaeda following a deadly May 22 attack on a Karachi naval station. Last fall, after being questioned about a different story by Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Shahzad wrote that he was threatened by the spy agency.

Alternatively, it could be that foul play like Shahzad’s murder will become a thing of the past in Pakistan. While in Islamabad May 27, Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen demanded authorities take “decisive steps” to crush the violent extremists the government has long supported, which would end the need to intimidate journalists who expose that support. Whichever way the Pakistan government goes, the May warnings by the U.S. ought to be the last.

The U.S. administration has continued to insist, as President Barack Obama did in a May 22 interview with the BBC, that the Pakistanis have “generally been significant and serious partners against the terrorist threat to the West.” This simply isn’t the case.

Victim, Sponsor

For much of the past decade, Pakistan has been both a victim and a sponsor of Islamic militants. Its soldiers are fighting bravely against homegrown terrorists seeking to install an Islamic government. In 20 attacks in May, these radicals killed some 150 people.

At the same time, the Pakistani army, led by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is a longstanding patron of violent groups targeting Afghanistan and India.
Guided by excessive fear bordering on paranoia about India, Pakistan’s military and intelligence services believe that nurturing those extremists is an effective way to frustrate India’s regional ambitions. The ISI largely created and continues to support the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the principal groups battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the fledgling government in Kabul. It also backs Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people.

Double-Dealing

President George W. Bush’s administration tried to end this double-dealing by giving Pakistan billions in economic and military assistance. Yet Bush didn’t make the aid contingent on a crackdown on extremists. The Pakistanis cooperated somewhat with U.S. efforts to dismantle al-Qaeda but refused to act against other groups, including the Afghan Taliban, which was given refuge inside Pakistan’s borders.

The Obama administration accelerated the failed Bush policy, substantially increasing military and economic assistance, again without imposing rigorous conditions. And Pakistan continued to ignore administration warnings about continued support for extremists.
In one incident reported by the Washington Post, Obama’s first national security adviser, James Jones, warned officials in Islamabad that there would be “consequences” if a terrorist attack directed at the U.S. was traced to Pakistan. Yet when a man who had trained at a terrorist camp in that country attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, the U.S. administration did nothing. Shortly thereafter, Obama watered down Jones’s words, telling Kayani that a “successful” attack would have consequences.

Meaning Business

So when U.S. authorities learned that Osama bin Laden might be housed in a villa in a Pakistani garrison town, they dispatched Navy Seals to capture or kill him without so much as notifying the Pakistanis in advance. The raid provoked great outrage from officials in Pakistan. Since then, emotions have cooled. Clinton and Mullen have delivered their warnings, public and private. And this time, the Americans may mean business.

Will the Pakistanis respond?

Shahzad’s murder is a bad sign. On the other hand, reports from Pakistani tribal leaders suggest that the Pakistani army may be preparing a serious campaign in North Waziristan, where the leaders of the Haqqani Network and other extremist groups live.
It will soon be clear whether Clinton’s latest message got through. If not, the administration must consider new ways to persuade Pakistan to change course, recognizing that the country is behaving more like an adversary than a partner.

Pakistani Journalists Defiant at Reporter’s Burial

As Reported by The Associated Press

A Pakistani reporter who investigated terrorism and was found slain after telling a rights activist he’d been threatened by intelligence agents was buried Wednesday. Fellow journalists vowed his killing would not silence them.

Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote for the Asia Times Online and other publications. He delved into topics that were often sensitive in Pakistan, where journalists face threats from insurgents as well as a security establishment that operates largely outside the law.

“We will not shut our voices down,” said Azhar Abbas, a prominent Pakistani journalist. “The journalist community is united on this. We will not stop ”

Pakistan was the deadliest country for journalists in 2010, with at least eight killed in the line of duty, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Six died in suicide attacks, the group said in a report late last year.

Despite the dangers, the media establishment in Pakistan has expanded rapidly over the past decade, and reporters here operate with tremendous freedom compared with many other developing countries.

In recent weeks, the media have carried unusually scathing coverage about the security establishment after it was caught unawares by the May 2 U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison city in Pakistan’s northwest.

Shahzad’s death could heighten the criticism, though commentators are being careful about how they discuss the alleged link to spy agencies.

After disappearing Sunday from Islamabad, Shahzad’s body was found dozens of miles outside the capital on Tuesday, bearing signs of torture, police said. His death drew numerous condemnations, including from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The 40-year-old was buried in his hometown, Karachi, as hundreds of friends, relatives, political figures and fellow journalists mourned.

Sindh province Information Minister Sharjeel Memon called the killing a “cowardly act” and promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. But it’s unclear how much the weak civilian government can do if, as some suspect, Pakistani security agencies played a role.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, called the allegations “absurd.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media on the record.

However, Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he feared Pakistani intelligence agents were after him.

The agencies pressured him to reveal his sources in October after he wrote a story about Pakistan allegedly freeing a detained Afghan Taliban commander, according to an email Shahzad sent Hasan. Hasan said Shahzad was still worried in recent weeks, but kept up his reporting.

Just last week, Shahzad wrote a story about alleged al-Qaida infiltration of the navy. The report came after a 17-hour insurgent siege of a naval base in Pakistan’s south added to the recent humiliations suffered by security agencies.

Within days, Shahzad vanished, and his wife contacted Hasan as her husband had instructed in case he disappeared.

In a statement, Clinton said Shahzad’s reporting “brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan’s stability,” and said the U.S. supports the “Pakistani government’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.”

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