Author Topic: Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan's bravest journalist, has been murdered  (Read 767 times)

Cain

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Pretty shocking news for anyone who is a regular reader of Asia Times Online:

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Pakistan - silencing the truth-seekers

By Karamatullah K Ghori

Where does one draw the line between a devoted journalist's right to sift the truth from fiction and report, and an assassin's bloodlust to silence him?

The kidnapping and murder of Asia Times Online's Pakistan bureau chief, Syed Saleem Shahzad, only days after he had exposed a possible link between al-Qaeda and Pakistani servicemen [1], in the macabre but gory drama of Karachi's apparently well-guarded naval-aviation base, Mehran, invaded on May 22 by a handful of terrorists, raises that obvious question.

I had written a piece for Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online on that incident and was informed that the article would appear on Thursday, May 26. But my take on the brazen development didn't appear because on the same day Saleem had filed a copious, ***two-part*** story on what had actually transpired and who might have been involved in that obvious breach of security at a prestigious naval base in the heart of Pakistan's largest city.

I felt sorry that my story had been killed, but appreciated the editor's compulsion for doing it. Saleem was the man on the spot, whereas I was a distant observer from thousands of kilometers away.

But how I wish, now, that Asia Times Online hadn't carried Saleem's no-holds-barred analytical expose of what is without doubt a cloak-and-dagger story of which we haven't, yet, seen all.

Saleem, 40, disappeared on his way to a television interview in Islamabad on Sunday evening. On Tuesday, police said they had found his body in Mandi Bahauddin, about 150 kilometers southeast of the capital. There were indications that he had been tortured. He is survived by his wife, Anita, and two sons aged 14 and seven, and a daughter aged 12.

Those assassins who've silenced him forever may not have read what he wrote. But once a man makes a blip on their radar, he stays there, in their gun-sights, until they get him. Saleem isn't the first, nor will be the last, Pakistani or foreign journalist whose life flame has been put out by the merchants of death who have apparently been roaming the land and plying their trade with virtual impunity. Pakistan had the most journalist deaths in the world in 2010 - 44 - and not one killer has been brought to justice.

Pakistan is "the world’s most dangerous country for journalists" the Paris-based press-monitoring group Reporters Without Borders said last month.

Human Rights Watch cited a "reliable interlocutor" who said Saleem had been abducted by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). "This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies," said a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in South Asia, Ali Dayan Hasan. He called for a "transparent investigation and court proceedings".

In mid-October last year, Saleem sent an e-mail to the editor of Asia Times Online, Tony Allison, which contained part of an exchange between Saleem and an official of the ISI. It read, "I must give you a favor. We have recently arrested a terrorist and recovered a lot of data, diaries and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know."

Saleem told Allison that he specifically interpreted this as a direct threat. He had been summoned to ISI headquarters over the publication of an exclusive report that Pakistan had released the supreme commander of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, so that he could play a pivotal role in backchannel talks through the Pakistani army with Washington. (Pakistan frees Taliban commander October 16, 2010.)

The ISI demanded that Saleem reveal his sources, and also write a rebuttal. Saleem refused, to the obvious displeasure of the ISI officials who included Rear Admiral Adnan Nawaz and Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, both from the navy.

At this point, Allison suggested to Saleem that he lay low for a little while. His response was abrupt and summed up the man, "If I hold back and don't do my job, I might as well just make the tea."

Saleem began his journalistic career as a bit-part reporter in the early 1990s in the southern port city of Karachi covering the municipal beat. He began writing for Asia Times Online 10 years ago and through a doggedness and burning desire to get to the truth that became a hallmark of his career he became internationally recognized as a leading expert on al-Qaeda and militancy. His book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 was released by Pluto Press last week.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on Saleem's killing, "The United States strongly condemns the abduction and killing of reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad. His work reporting on terrorism and intelligence issues in Pakistan brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan’s stability.” Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed sorrow and ordered an immediate inquiry.

Saleem's journey took him into the badlands that span the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the mountainous region that is home to militants of all shades. In November 2006 he was held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan for six days, but within days he was back in business, literally sweating, as he would joke, up and down the valleys of North and South Waziristan. (See A 'guest' of the Taliban Asia Times Online, November 20, 2006.)

He interviewed some of the most notorious militant leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, a major player in the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani militant who heads 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda. (See Al-Qaeda's guerrilla chief lays out strategy October 15, 2009.)

Killing, in cold blood a man of letters like Saleem amounts to an open declaration of war against the fundamental principles of Islam and defiance of the teachings of its Messenger, Prophet Mohammad, who bestowed the greatest honors on a seeker of truth by intoning that "the ink of a scholar's pen is holier than a martyr's blood".

The core problem in the context of Pakistan is the failure of the state as a whole - which includes its ruling elite, the military brass and civil society in general - to come to grips with the challenge of fundamentalists and their soul-comrades, the terrorists.

Except for a small segment of the intelligentsia bemoaning the debasing of Pakistan's moorings, there is hardly any backlash in evidence against the corrosive damage the fundamentalists are doing to its social order. The silence of the clergy against the defacing of Islam is simply deafening. Those few voices that articulated against terrorists have been brutally silenced.

The ruling elite has become almost irrelevant to the country's crying need for wise and enlightened leadership to arrest the inexorable slide into anarchy. Their sole concern is with remaining in power by any means, even if it means subcontracting Pakistan to a United States agenda.

The military leadership, on its part, has failed to check the spread of the festering cancer of fundamentalism and radicalism in its ranks - a damning legacy of General Zia ul-Haq's 11 years at the head of Pakistan, and then General Pervez Musharraf's rule until August 2008. Saleem's last contribution to Asia Times Online focused intently on this "black hole" of Pakistan.

And he paid for it with his life.

Pakistan's military brass remains hopelessly mired in its infatuation with parity with India in military hardware and it must therefore stay on the right side of US to keep its arsenal well stocked. Its latest decision to sign on to Washington's demand for military action in North Waziristan - a central piece of Clinton's visit to Islamabad on May 27 - is evidence of the US agenda in the region ruling the roost in Islamabad. A blitz in North Waziristan will, inevitably, lead to a more virulent terrorist backlash in the rest of the country and more spilling of innocent blood like Saleem's.

Shahzad was probably the foremost Pakistani reporter on the status of Al-Qaeda and the modern day Taliban insurgency.  As suggested in the article, he had sources within the ISI and interviewed almost all of the major players in the conflict, including those on the insurgent side and hunted for by the US military.  Along with a native mastery of the tongue and expert knowledge of Pakistani internal politics, he was a reporter par excellence, doing the ground work many other journalists, particularly American and British ones, found too dangerous to contemplate, behind their desks in their metropolitan offices.  A great man was slain by cowards and fanatics, and it is truly a tragedy.

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This is truly sad. So few left with real ethics and personal virtue.

Cain

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http://www.atimes.com/atimes/War_and_Terror.html

Through this archive, almost all of his posts can be found.

I think I'm going to order his book tonight, as well.

Jenne

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Wow.  The number of reporters willing to do the proper investigation and indeed REPORT on it, with dedication, is going down as it is.  These guys' families must be on 24/7 watch for news they've been kidnapped, assassinated, etc.  It's NOT a safe world out there when you are someone like this guy...shit, even being their interpreter or whatever can get you KO'd.  :(  Sad.

Cain

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From the Afghan expert, Joshua Foust

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Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief of the Asia Times Online, has been found dead near his car in Sarai Alamgir, about 200 kilometres from Islamabad. The body, according to reports, showed “signs of torture.”

This is a serious loss—not just for his family, which must mourn a senseless death, but for people trying to understand the inexplicable militancy in Pakistan. He often had incredible sources, embedding with the insurgency inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and bringing to light narratives, perspectives, and stories no one could even hope to touch. Shahzad also seemed to have close ties to the ISI, and he performed an invaluable service reflecting those views to the outside world.

Shahzad, in other words, helped us start to understand why things happen in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beyond his value as a human being—which means already that he couldn’t ever deserve to be abducted off the road and tortured to death—Syed Saleem Shahzad lived his life reporting things no one else would or could. And for that, we should celebrate what he accomplished.

Today, May 31, is Salman Taseer’s birthday. Taseer was the governor of the province of Punjab from 2008 until his assassination in early 2011. His killer, a bodyguard who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was widely celebrated within Pakistan. Will the same be true of Shahzad’s killers? I really hope not—Pakistani society’s indifference to the brutality directed at reporters and reformists is abhorrent.

In his last tweet (a depressing thing to tally), Shahzad had pointed to his most recent story, detailing the role al Qaeda played in a recent massive assault on a Pakistani Naval Base. His book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11, was released last week.

RIP.

Jenne

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Shit.  I saw that book.  Damn.  What a fuckin waste.

Cain

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This is some highly interesting speculation, especially given Ilyas Kashmiri's supposed assassination yesterday.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/MF03Df02.html

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Saleem's killing raises the question - why? What was the need to kidnap, torture and kill the man? His recent articles have increasingly exposed the connections between al-Qaeda and the ISI, and more importantly those between al-Qaeda and the Pakistan navy. Specifically, he stumbled upon the casus belli for last month's attacks on Karachi naval installations by al-Qaeda, namely the arrests of various navy personnel due to their proximity to al-Qaeda.

Massoud may offer clues

Two days before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, al-Qaeda carried out the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir and leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The killing was widely reported as a putative gift by al-Qaeda to the Taliban that had been entrenched in a long-term warfare with Massoud and his men for control of Kabul and the northern provinces of Afghanistan. The two assassins posed as journalists, who went for an interview with the Lion. At the time, and since then, the hand of the ISI was widely suspected in the killing of Massoud.

Since then, a number of instances of such gifts made in the blood of innocents have occurred that have been followed by acts of terrorism. The killing of former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 springs to mind as the act of the Taliban to keep itself in the good books of the ISI and the Pakistan military - or a blood gift for all assistance previously rendered by these organizations that faced awkward questions if she had been elected back to power. The question uppermost in my mind is whether the shadow of Massoud lurks over the killing of Saleem as well.

Let us look at the evidence - we know that Saleem was focused on the links between al-Qaeda and the Pakistan navy. (See Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike Asia Times Online, May 27.) We also know that an offshoot of the Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT) attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008 to much "acclaim" in the Pakistani terror establishment. Saleem had interviewed Ilyas Kashmiri previously for Asia Times Online - and Kashmiri's 313 Brigade has been identified as the operational group behind the Karachi attacks in May.

So what if the Pakistan navy and Ilyas Kashmiri were in cahoots and a journalist found out? The current head of the Pakistan military, Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, was previously the head of the ISI - the organization that is accused of sheltering Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. Therefore, the existence of links between the two (al-Qaeda and navy) wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

Unless, if the revelations were "inconvenient" to anyone on an operational basis. Massoud was an inconvenience to the Taliban in their ability to give shelter to al-Qaeda (which Bin Laden shrewdly realized would be needed after attacking the US); he was hence removed. Similarly, it may well be that Saleem was removed because his revelations were complicating certain operations.

What could those operations be? Firstly, it could involve an al-Qaeda operation against India. While traditionally the forces of al-Qaeda have kept away from India and subcontracted such "low" work to Pakistani terrorists, the apparent elevation of Ilyas Kashmiri within al-Qaeda may have changed that equation so that al-Qaeda would be focused on attacking India.

This theory though doesn't quite hold water because a lesser organization like LeT had already attacked India in November 2008. The objective of terror organizations is to do something "new and improved" like the ads for soaps. Hence, it is highly unlikely that whatever Saleem was in danger of stumbling on had anything to do with India.

If you remove the obvious alternatives, whatever remains must be the logical option. That would involve Israel - in other words, elements of the Pakistan navy may have been cooperating with al-Qaeda over a possible attack on Israel. The modus operandi would be similar to the attacks on India in November 2008 - sea-based, which is actively ignored by the Pakistan navy.

However, a commando-type operation like the one on India wouldn't be practical in the case of Israel. Secondly, there are a number of other navies between the shores of Pakistan and Israel, not the least of which would be the Americans. Thus, the plan is likely to have focused on what al-Qaeda wanted to remove from Pakistan that could be used later against Israel.

Remember, though, that the attacks on the Karachi naval installations were focused on the P3 Orion aircraft - exactly the technology that the navy would be using to monitor the movements of large craft of the type that is used to load/unload/transport large objects.

Adding up the different permutations, it is difficult to ignore the probability that the idea involves using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that had been spirited away by al-Qaeda with the active connivance of elements in the ISI. America and other countries have been focusing on the worst-case scenario of al-Qaeda getting WMDs, but haven't spent enough time considering that the organization may already have done so.

Pakistan has been on a bit of a bomb-building spree recently - again a suspicious activity because the stockpile of nuclear weapons meant to target India was widely considered sufficient as recently as 2008. So the building of new bombs had to have something to do with other applications - or other enemies than India. It is also more plausible to hide the creation of a rogue nuclear weapon when a hundred ones are being built as against when the stockpile is stable.

If you were the ISI person responsible for this project, a mere journalist like Saleem would be quite an inconvenience for your partners. Tragic as the killing of Saleem is, it may well have been initiated as part of a blueprint for a WMD to be used on Israel by al-Qaeda. An attack on India using such WMD is also plausible, albeit less likely due to the immediate retaliation that would cause.

I don't believe any of those angles are correct, but I believe his reasons for putting Shahzad's killing into a wider context certainly could be.  And the recent naval attacks did target P3 Orions pretty hard - it destroyed two of the four that Pakistan have.

How much of NATO's supplies come in by boat?  Most of them.  And they come in via the Port of Karachi.  Could Al-Qaeda be looking to attack naval supply routes?  I don't think it can be discounted.

In fact, I'm so concerned this could be the case, I'm tempted to email some people I know about my suspicions.  I'm sure they will have already figured this out, but it wont hurt my rep among the security community.