Breaking our silence

The death of Syed Saleem Shahzad sent shockwaves throughout the journalist community, not just in Pakistan but all over the world. Mr Shahzad’s gruesome murder served as a grim reminder to Pakistani journalists how difficult it is to do honest reporting in a harsh environment where your enemies can get away with bloody murder. But now is not the time to remain silent. Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, is accused of killing Mr Shahzad. In its defence, an ISI official denied the reports. “The reported e-mail of Mr Saleem Shahzad to Mr Ali Hasan Dayan of HRW [Human Rights Watch], which is being made the basis of baseless allegations levelled against the ISI has no veiled or unveiled threats in it,” said the ISI official. Debunking the ISI’s statement, President All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) Hameed Haroon confirmed that the e-mail was “indeed one of the three identical e-mails sent by Mr Shahzad to HRW, his employers (Asia Times Online) and to his former employer, myself”. Mr Haroon further stated that Mr Shahzad confided to him and “several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years”.

The calls for making an independent investigation commission into Mr Shahzad’s murder have found resonance the world over. “All aspects of this crime, including the possibility of links to the ISI, need to be independently investigated and prosecuted,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. The government of Pakistan has so far assured that an independent commission would indeed be set up but what we really need to ensure is that this commission has the power and the requisite political will to carry out its investigation without any form of intimidation. There should not be any no-go areas and even ‘sacred cows’ like our intelligence agencies should be made answerable. Pakistani journalists are under constant threat from all sorts of elements, be it terror groups, extremist forces or our security establishment. The blood of our brave journalists must not go in vain. This has to end, now.

The culture of impunity is so prevalent in Pakistani society that getting justice has become almost unachievable. All quarters have to realise that in this day of information technology, truth will see the light of day through one medium or another. Silencing voices of dissent will not weaken our resolve to uncover the truth. The battle for truth may be long and hard but the journalist community of Pakistan will win it in the end. The best tribute to Mr Shahzad’s memory would be to bring his killers to book.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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