"Pakistan is the world's most dangerous country for journalists." -Reporters Without Borders, Paris
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, who has been writing well informed and courageous columns almost daily since ten years, disappeared while driving for a television interview in Islamabad at the weekend. Police discovered his body about 150 kms southeast of the capital two days later. It appears from the many injuries that he was brutally tortured, quite clearly as a warning to other truth seeking journalists in Pakistan. Saleem had recently exposed a possible link between al-Qaeda and Pakistani military in the May 22 attack on Mehran naval-aviation base at Karachi, carried out like the 26/11 rampage on India's financial and cultural capital, Mumbai.
Saleem, only 40 years old is survived by his wife and three young children.
Pakistan remains the country with most journalists killed in the world, in 2010 - 44 - and not one single killer has been brought to justice so far.
Hameed Haroon, the chief executive of the Dawn Group of Newspapers said in a June 2 statement that Saleem had told him of receiving “death threats from various officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on at least three occasions in the past five years". Based in Karachi, he wrote regularly on various Islamist militant networks, haunting and wrecking peace and calm in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond to India and elsewhere.
In a surprise move, an ISI official stated on June 1, that the incident "should not be used to target and malign the country's security agency".
"Baseless accusations against the country's sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad's murder are totally unfounded. In the absence of any evidence and when an investigation is still pending, such allegations are tantamount to unprofessional conduct on the part of the media," the official told the Associated Press of Pakistan.
"The ISI offers its deepest and heartfelt condolence to the bereaved family, and assures them that it will leave no stone unturned in helping to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice."
In a warning to the Pakistani media, the official said that it "should refrain from [making] baseless allegations against the ISI that seek to deliberately malign the organization in the eyes of the people of Pakistan".
Haroon responded that Mr. Shahzad's purpose "was not to defame the ISI but to avert a possible fulfillment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat". "The last threat which I refer to was recorded by Mr. Shahzad by e-mail with me, tersely phrased as 'for the record' at precisely 4.11 am on 18 October 2010, wherein he recounted details of his meetings at the ISI headquarters," added Haroon.
Saleem's brutal murder has been denounced all around the world by almost every one, even by Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State USA, a country which along with its CIA, Saudi Arabia, its Mukhabarat and other Gulf Emirates had financed, trained and created these nurseries of terrorism and some states still finance them.
Aamer Ahmed Khan of BBC Urdu Program recalls how in 2001, while editing one of Pakistan's leading news analysis magazines, he had used a story on the ISI-Taliban nexus. A few days later he got a call from one Colonel Tariq. "I know quite a bit about you. You drive a Honda City, don't you?" he said. He knew details of my wife and family and continued: "I find myself wondering why people like you think they can be journalists and have a family at the same time."
Later Khan was called into the ISI for a dressing down. He then realized the scale of the monitoring and surveillance worse than by FBI in US under the Orwellian Patriot act, and brutally." The entire journalist community in Pakistan knows how closely the agency monitors media and journalists. Every reporter in the country knows that if they get a telephone call from anyone who calls themselves "Colonel Tariq" it is bad news. It usually means they have fallen foul of the ISI", Khan added.
It is clear that Saleem's murder is part of a systematic campaign to eliminate truth seeking voices. "It appears that elements within Pakistan are waging a vicious and brutal war against free speech.” A senior Baloch nationalist teacher and poet was recently killed which his family alleges was the handiwork of the ISI. So no wonder fingers are pointed at ISI.
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|Allen L. Jasson|