"Pakistan is the world's most dangerous country for journalists."
- Reporters Without Borders, Paris
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, who had been writing well informed and courageous columns almost daily since ten years, disappeared while driving for a television interview in Islamabad at the weekend. Police discovered his body about 150 kms southeast of the capital two days later. It appears from the many injuries that he was brutally tortured, quite clearly as a warning to other truth seeking journalists in Pakistan. Saleem had recently exposed a possible link between al-Qaeda and Pakistani military in the May 22 attack on Mehran naval-aviation base at Karachi, carried out like the 26/11 rampage on India's financial and cultural capital, Mumbai.
Saleem, only 40 years old, is survived by his wife and three young children.
Pakistan remains the country with most journalists killed in the world; 44 in 2010 alone and not one single killer has been brought to justice so far.
Hameed Haroon, the chief executive of the Dawn Group of Newspapers said in a June 2nd statement that Saleem had told him of receiving "death threats from various officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on at least three occasions in the past five years". Based in Karachi, he wrote regularly on various Islamist militant networks , haunting and wrecking peace and calm in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond to India and elsewhere.
In a surprise move, an ISI official stated on 1 June that
the incident "should not be used to target and malign the country's security agency".
"Baseless accusations against the country's sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad's murder are totally unfounded. In the absence of any evidence and when an investigation is still pending, such allegations are tantamount to unprofessional conduct on the part of the media," the official told the Associated Press of Pakistan.
"The ISI offers its deepest and heartfelt condolence to the bereaved family, and assures them that it will leave no stone unturned in helping to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice."
In a warning to the Pakistani media, the official said that it "should refrain from [making] baseless allegations against the ISI that seek to deliberately malign the organization in the eyes of the people of Pakistan".
Haroon responded that Mr Shahzad's purpose "was not to defame the ISI but to avert a possible fulfillment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat". "The last threat which I refer to was recorded by Mr. Shahzad by e-mail with me, tersely phrased as 'for the record' at precisely 4.11 am on 18 October 2010, wherein he recounted details of his meetings at the ISI headquarters," added Haroon.
Saleem's brutal murder has been denounced all around the world by almost everyone, even by Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State USA, a country which along with its CIA, Saudi Arabia, its Mukhabarat and other Gulf Emirates had financed, trained and created these nurseries of terrorism and some states still finance them.
Aamer Ahmed Khan of BBC Urdu Programme recalls how in 2001, while editing one of Pakistan's leading news analysis magazines, he had used a story on the ISI-Taliban nexus. A few days later he got a call from one Colonel Tariq. "I know quite a bit about you. You drive a Honda City, don't you?" he said. He knew details of my wife and family and continued: "I find myself wondering why people like you think they can be journalists and have a family at the same time."
Later Khan was called into the ISI for a dressing down. He then realized the scale of the monitoring and surveillance worse than by FBI in US under the Orwellian Patriot act, and brutality. "The entire journalist community in Pakistan knows how closely the agency monitors media and journalists. Every reporter in the country knows that if they get a telephone call from anyone who calls themselves "Colonel Tariq" it is bad news. It usually means they have fallen foul of the ISI", Khan added.
It is clear that Saleem's murder is part of a systematic campaign to eliminate truth seeking voices. "It appears that elements within Pakistan are waging a vicious and brutal war against free speech." A senior Baloch nationalist teacher and poet was recently killed which his family alleges was the handiwork of the ISI. So no wonder fingers are pointed at ISI.
Tribute by K Ghori, a former Pakistani ambassador
In his tribute in Asia Times, Karamatullah K Ghori, a former Pakistani ambassador describes how Saleem travelled over dangerous badlands straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the mountainous region that is home to militants of all shades. "In November 2006 he (Saleem) 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."
He took risks and interviewed notorious militant leaders like Sirajuddin Haqqani, a major player in the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani terrorist who heads 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.
Ghori avers that "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 continues Ghori is the failure of Pakistan refusing to tackle the challenge of fundamentalists and their soul-comrades, the terrorists. "There is hardly any backlash against the corrosive damage the fundamentalists are doing to its (Pakistan) 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, almost irrelevant - 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.
"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."
It is a damning statement.
I have been an admiring and regular reader of Saleem's articles which I recommended to many others. In a way we were colleagues, since I wrote 60 articles for Asia Times from 2002 to 2005, when suddenly I was asked not to send my articles. My articles were mostly most read especially on Middle East, with posts in Cairo and Algiers and as Ambassador to Jordan (1989-92) during the 1991 war on Iraq and ten years stay in Turkey in two tenures.
Following Saleem's journeys in badlands and articles was something like going through a spy thriller except that it was real life risks. I would mail him words of appreciation and some times, with my watch over Turkey since 1967 and study of five centuries of Ottoman empire, even add information about how in the history of Islam and now, the lines between the Mir and the Pir, the temporal ruler and spiritual ruler remain blurred, contested and changing.
After the establishment of a secular republic in Turkey by Kemal Ataturk, the country is sliding towards Islamism, with ample financial support and investment of yesil surmaye (green money) from Saudi Arabia. West hoping to see a pro-Sunni regime in Ankara ranged against Shia Tehran is quiet and in fact lauding the so-called Turkish model!
Rise and Fall of Janissaries in Ottoman Empire
I referred to Saleem the 'Devshirme' system of recruiting Christian young boys mostly from Balkans but even from Anatolia for its shock troops, the Janissaries and also the top civil service cadre in the Top Kapi Palace.
Beginning with the forced recruitment from Christian prisoners taken as booty after the battle, the system progressively developed into a privileged and influential warrior force that converted young Christian boys to Islam and instructed them in the Turkish martial arts. Unlike feudal levies Janissaries owed loyalty to the Sultan only. Regimented training and strong moral codes transformed the Janissaries into more than an impressive military force, a political entity of such unchecked power (shades of ISI) that they unwittingly contributed to the very downfall of the empire itself. The Janissaries were an important factor in the military expansion of the Ottoman Empire from the 1453 capture of Constantinople to the battles against the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
The next couple of centuries saw the growth of the power of the Ottomans, but a succession of uprisings by Janissaries resulted in more power flowing into their hands. The first Janissary revolt occurred in 1449 and served as a model for many later revolts, each of which brought them more power and pelf. The Janissaries reached such an enviable state of influence by the late 1600s that the Ottoman bureaucracy was effectively held hostage to their whims and demands. A mutiny led to change in the policy of the politicians. Eventually, the Janissaries started to engage in successful coups to topple even a Sultan who was not receptive to their specific desires. They put their own self-interests first and placed obstacles in the path of modernizing the army.
In 1807, the Janissaries revolted against Sultan Selim III, and replaced him with Mahmud II. Mahmud II finally decided that the Janissaries had to be decimated in order to preserve the empire. In the summer of 1826, when the Janissaries staged another uprising, the rest of the army and the people were ranged against them. The Janissary force finally faced either death or retreat and exile. The survivors were banished and their wealth taken over by the state.
Like the Konya Sultante the Pakistanis under its religious President Zia-ul- haq with financial support from US led West and Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states trained and sent Jihadist and militants' aka modern day Ghazis into Afghanistan in 1980s, who forced the Soviets' exit from Afghanistan. Eventually the Communist edifice undermined by Slav nationalism, Orthodox Christianity and economic overreach, collapsed by the beginning of 1990s.
The modern day version of Janissaries, a conglomerate of various militias, free-booters, religious fanatics, nationalists and tribal chieftains classified as Al Qaeda,Taliban, Pakistani Taliban etc., are somewhat like the Janissaries of the Ottoman empire , their most effective fighting force which terrorized European Christians and helped extend the Ottoman empire into Europe. But soon instead of terrorizing the enemies of the Ottomans, they threatened the Sultans. Finally the Janissaries had to be destroyed. Would Pakistan be able to do the same i.e. destroy the terror groups and its supporters in the military, ISI, the civilian regime and the clerics.
When I sent such material to Saleem, his gracious reply was "Thank you, Sir".
Once when he enquired why I stopped writing for Atimes, I said that I am too blunt and honest in criticizing US and western policies. He wrote back humorously, why do I not tailor my stories like some others do. Of course he held to the highest canons of journalism, even sacrificing his life. Only Pepe Escobar, another of my favorite journalists gets away with blunt criticism of western policies.
Although I have served in north Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Azerbaijan and travelled widely and interacted with people, I am now only an arm chair analyst of international affairs and events. I do sometimes get a small percentage of abusive letters but run little personal risk.
Enter Gen Pervez Musharraf
I had great hopes for Pakistan and peace in the subcontinent, when Gen Pervez Musharraf took over power in Pakistan. Young Pervez had spent four impressionable school years in Ankara, where his father was posted as an attache. I wrote many articles on him and his policies because of the role of military in Pakistan and Turkey.
At his very first press conference soon after taking over in October, 1999 as Pakistan 's chief executive, General Musharraf spotted some journalists from Turkey. Speaking in fluent Turkish, Musharraf told them that he was a great admirer of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and its first president. "As a model, Kemal Ataturk did a great deal for Turkey. I have his biography. We will see what I can do for Pakistan." Apart from being more at home with Turkish in 1999 than Pakistan's national language, Urdu, Musharraf also admired Turkey's generals and the country's political model. Ataturk's legend of forging a new, vibrant, modern and secular Turkey out of the ashes of the decaying deadwood of the Ottoman Empire left an indelible mark on young Pervez, as evidenced by his remarks above.
But by 2003 it was clear that the Mohajir General was but a time server and I wrote;
"Ataturk had boldly and ruthlessly carried out westernizing and modernizing reforms against religious obscurantism and dogma and forged the remnants of the Ottoman Empire with a 99 percent Muslim population into a secular republic in the 1920s. The Ottoman Sultan was also the Caliph. Ataturk abolished both the offices. But he had kept his external ambitions in check, he did not claim former Ottoman provinces lost in World War I, and had concentrated on building a new Turkey from the bottom up and modernizing it.
"Musharraf, a child of his times, did step down, after September 11, from the fundamentalist tiger he was riding and had helped nurture. Quite clearly he is not fully in command on the home front, with suicide bombers killing foreigners and Christians and senior officials being assassinated. He tightens up from time to time, with some arrests of ranking Al-Qaeda members and others to please USA. If he tried too hard, these forces, now baying against him, would conspire for his blood and threaten his US allies.
"Musharraf's childhood Ataturk-inspired dream is unlikely to come true. Perhaps he is not ruthless enough, determined and single minded like Ataturk, or maybe there are just too many cards stacked against him."
Fault Lines in Pak Polity
A weak and reliant (on West) state of Pakistan was created by the British as UK archives show, to keep India, which under Nehru and Gandhi was unlikely to join western alliances, away from direct contact with south west, central and west Asia, with West controlled oil wells, the new fuel to power and dominance. Since WWII, Washington, the new Rome till 2003, so they thought, with oil money of protected Saudi dynasty and Rawalpindi with support from Israel (Iran up to 1979) has humiliated, ruled and robbed the people of these regions of their wealth, who are now risen against Western domination as had the people of East Europe in 1990 against the Communist domination. It will be hard and long bloody battle but the people of former Ottoman Vilayats of north Africa taken over by European nations before WWI and the Arab lands of west Asia, divided and ruled after the defeat of the Ottoman forces in the WWI, will succeed in achieving freedom.
Saleem like other Pathans did not appear too enthused by the Punjabi Musalman, who got Pakistan as a gift from London and have dominated and abused people from other provinces. Their wish to have Afghanistan and dominate it as their backyard or as strategic depth will remain a pipe dream. But till the ruling Saudi dynasty remains in power, Muslims are unlikely to make much progress, since Riyadh only distributes Qurans, finances Mosques, Madrasas and various kind of rightwing regimes and terror and other groups. Signs are that it might happen following the Arab uprisings across north Africa and the middle East.
Until than truth seekers like Syed Saleem Shahzad will continue to be martyrs for 'Al haq'.
Read Also: Pakistan’s Journalists: “Soldiers,” in the Front Line