EDITORIAL: Saleem Shahzad: the price of truth
The body of Syed Saleem Shahzad, one of Pakistan’s best investigative journalists, was found yesterday from Mandi Bahauddin. Mr Shahzad was Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online. He went missing on May 29, 2011 from Islamabad when he was on his way to a local television channel to participate in a talk show but he never made it. Reports suggest that he disappeared between 5:30-6:00 pm from a high security area in Islamabad. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Mr Shahzad had voiced his concerns that a sensitive intelligence agency could harm him. In an interview with TIME magazine, HRW’s Ali Dayan Hasan said: “To date, no intelligence personnel have been held accountable for frequently perpetrated abuses against journalists. Tolerance for these practices has to end, now.” Saleem Shahzad’s last story for Asia Times Online revealed how al Qaeda had penetrated the Pakistan Navy. The attack on PNS Mehran took place “after talks failed between the Navy and al Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al Qaeda links,” wrote Mr Shahzad in his report on May 27. This was the first part of his report but he was abducted before the second part could be published.
It is a sad day, nay black day, for journalism in Pakistan that a journalist was picked up from the capital and his tortured body dumped in another town while the perpetrators of this gory crime roam free. This is not the first time that a journalist has lost his life for honest reporting. In the past we have been witness to the deaths of many brave journalists in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan, FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is not without reason that Pakistan has been dubbed as the most dangerous place for journalists by Reporters without Borders. Journalists in Pakistan are between a rock and a hard place: they face threats both from the militants and our intelligence agencies. When journalists write or speak against terrorists, they receive threats. When they expose our military’s links with terrorists, they are harassed. Threats, harassment, abduction and even murder is what journalists in Pakistan are victims of all too frequently.
Syed Saleem Shahzad’s brutal murder seems like a warning to Pakistan’s journalist community that if they continue to report honestly, they can be killed. If the people of Pakistan, especially the media community, does not wake up and speak out against such brutalities, every sane voice in the country will die a silent death. If we remain quiet, this will be our own self-inflicted Holocaust. Prime Minister Gilani has ordered an inquiry into Mr Shahzad’s murder. The question is, will this be like any other inquiry that takes place here, with no results? We must urge the government to probe into this matter and make the results of the investigation public.
This should also serve as an eye-opener for those who have been apologising for the military and the Taliban alike. How many more innocents have to die before we realise that our country is a war zone where no one is safe from either our so-called saviours or the terrorists. Mr Shahzad and many others like him paid the price for reporting the truth. We must stop blaming external forces for what we are facing right now. In a country where terrorists, murderers, rapists and criminals roam free, deaths of innocents are all but inevitable. How many more people will have to sacrifice their lives before we finally call a spade a spade? Pakistan is in a deep mess right now and it is all our own doing. Let’s wake up to this reality before our soil turns completely red (if it has not already) with the blood of our citizens. RIP Saleem Shahzad; we cannot condemn or mourn your death adequately in words. Our only salvation now lies in bringing Mr Shahzad’s murderers to book. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: Proclaimed offender
Former president General (retired) Pervez Musharraf has been declared a ‘proclaimed offender’ by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi in the Benazir Bhutto murder case. The court was compelled to do so by his non-cooperation with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) during the investigations into the murder. According to the prosecutor, due to Musharraf’s non-cooperation, the trial of five suspects has been on hold for several months. Since General (retired) Musharraf is out of the reach of the investigators as well as the court’s jurisdiction after it was deposed in court that there was no extradition treaty with Britain where he resides, the court has declared him a proclaimed offender on the plea of the prosecution. All Pakistan Muslim League Punjab chapter’s general secretary Fawad Chaudhry responded by saying there was no legal ground for this verdict and that Musharraf’s opponents are trying to drag him into this case. No matter how Musharraf’s party and his well-wishers try to defend him, the fact of the matter is that he was at the helm of affairs when the PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in broad daylight in Rawalpindi. In fact, all the leads of the investigation point to him and his aides for their acts of omission and commission in this incident and in its aftermath. Mere statements cannot absolve him of his responsibility and involvement. Not only for Benazir Bhutto’s murder, General (retired) Musharraf has to answer for many other atrocities committed during his tenure, including the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, launching of a military operation in Balochistan, embroiling Pakistan in a neo-jihadi movement of the ‘good Taliban’ while going after the ‘bad Taliban’, undermining institutions of the state and much more.
Musharraf has announced that he would come to Pakistan on March 23, 2012 to organise his party and prepare for the next elections. However, public memory is not so short. Not only will he have to face the anti-terrorism court, but also the court of the public and will have to answer for his wrongdoings. Perhaps it is not a gainful proposition to leave behind a luxurious life in London and enter the minefield of politics in Pakistan. He would be better off if he avoids the latter. *