Justice for Saleem Shahzad

According to a report published in the New York Times (NYT), American officials believe that Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI, “ordered the killing” of slain journalist Saleem Shahzad. The NYT report further revealed that “new classified intelligence” obtained before Mr Shahzad’s disappearance on May 29 and after the discovery of his body “showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism”. This is quite damning if the information can indeed be substantiated. Though the report calls the information “reliable and conclusive”, the Obama administration is reluctant to disclose details of this information given the fraught relations between Pakistan and the US. It would be of little help unless and until the said information is provided to the Saleem Shahzad Commission so that it can be submitted as evidence in a court of law. The US is a champion of free speech and free flow of information. It would therefore be highly unfortunate if it fails to share classified information with the Commission that can very well lead to the indictment of Saleem Shahzad’s murderers.

The Commission has summoned senior journalists and Human Rights Watch’s Ali Dayan Hasan on July 9 to help with the murder probe. The Commission will soon acquire Mr Shahzad’s cell phone and e-mail records, which have so far not been submitted to it. The ISI has become very defensive ever since Mr Shahzad’s body was found on May 31 and mainstream media pointed fingers at its alleged involvement in his murder. The spy agency did not take too kindly to these allegations and has given veiled threats to the media community. A report published in TIME magazine reveals that the ISI has contacted several journalists “whom it feels have unfairly represented the spy agency”. Such intimidation tactics by the ISI are not new in Pakistan. The Pakistani media may be relatively free but in fact this ‘relative’ freedom is not without a price, especially for bold and brave journalists who are not afraid to challenge the country’s powerful military establishment. Saleem Shahzad’s murder was a gruesome reminder of the danger to the lives of journalists in Pakistan. If we want to see an end to the culture of impunity of the security forces, the perpetrators of Mr Shahzad’s assassination must be caught and punished.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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