THE video footage of an earlier killing of a journalist in Pakistan who was covering drug peddling cases on a news website ends with an ad of a popular business weekly which has a punchline: “the world’s most dangerous border”. Though the ad is incidental the message is most appropriate. The brutal killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad on May 31, is not the first or the last in the violent state of Pakistan. The country may not be a victim of terrorism but the news media of Pakistan which has shown exemplary courage in ferreting out the truth has often been caught at the wrong end of the cleft stick.
The courage of some of the Pakistani news reporters in their coverage of finer details of state sponsored terrorism has come as a whiff of fresh air in the global fight against terror. When Ajmal Kasab was caught and produced in Mumbai court to stand trial for mass murder and waging war against the nation, Geo TV came out with startling and complete revelation of Ajmal Kasab’s village and his folks. That put paid to Pakistan government’s claim that Ajmal Kasab was not a Pakistani.
The latest killing of Saleem Shahzad is symptomatic of the rot within. The suspicion for the killing of the bright young reporter of Asia Times Online, a news portal on the continent, will be on the state agencies, primarily the Inter Services Intelligence, or the infamous ISI. At least 16 journalists have been murdered since 2002 making Pakistan the deadliest country for the news media last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Syed Saleem Shahzad was the Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online. He covered issues related to global security, with special focus on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Shahzad was also actively reporting on the Islamist movements in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.
The ISI’s desperate attempts to save itself the ignominy of being declared a global terror organisation, especially after having given shelter to Osama bin Laden in a military camp in Abottabad is itself reason enough to get rid of the irritants in its own country. Saleem Shahzad was summoned by the ISI several times to warn him against writing news reports that reveal ISI’s game plan.
Pakistan and its dangerous state agencies were exposed when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was mercilessly executed by terrorists in Pakistan. Daniel Pearl was not even anti-Pakistan in his reportage as much Pakistan’s own breed of intrepid journalists who go any lengths to expose the government’s complicity in terror activities.
Just about 15 days ago Syed Saleem Shahzad’s new book was released: Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11. If the US has now found ISI to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, Shahzad has documented the facts and evidence in his book with absolute authority. His ability to produce research without peddling his own opinion is considered to be his trump card to convince readers.
“Saleem Shahzad’s killing bore hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” Ali Dayan Hasan of the Human Rights Watch in South Asia told reporters.
It is often seen that Pakistani reporters don’t tow the government or the ISI line on issues of national interest. And many a times it is also found that if the world is going to get help from inside Pakistan in its fight against terror it is the news media whose fortitude in trying circumstances is praise-worthy.