The brutal assassination of Mr Saleem Shahzad one of Pakistan’s most fearless and renowned journalist once again brought into lime light the stellar role played by these real, “heroes,” of the country wielding pen and camera fighting against twin forces of terrorism and wrath of intelligence agencies. As per Reporters Without Borders, 15 Journalists have been killed in Pakistan in the last 14 Months. In a country where every institution seems to be in a retreat including the Army, the stellar contribution of Pakistan’s brave journalists as Shahzad should be a reminder of the courage and perseverance of civil society in the country, perhaps the only hope to redeem it from awaiting doom.
Saleem Shahzad worked for the Italian agency Adnkronos (AKI) and was a regular contributor to the Asia Times Online based in Hong Kong, heading the Pakistan bureau. With good links both in the Establishment and militant groups, Shahzad was exceptionally well informed and stayed ahead of the information curve which perhaps led to his possible undoing. While the death has been condemned by all including the Prime Minister and the President, there is pain in the media community which is traumatized by this loss. If Shahzad an internationally known journalist could be so easily done away with others lesser known media troopers would naturally fear for their own safety. However despite the fear, the reaction from the Press in Pakistan indicates that they are unwilling to give up and determined to keep on exposing the wrong doings and vulnerabilities in public space.
Who killed Shahzad will remain a mystery for none of the investigations in the country have led any conclusion be it the killing of Benazir Bhutto or other high profile leaders. For the record to assuage the media, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that a sitting Supreme Court judge would probe the assassination of Saleem Shahzad.
Journalism is a profession fraught with many dangers particularly so in a counter insurgency situation. While war reporting may be perhaps the most hazardous, the danger is known and the enemy well identified, it is the opponents military. On the other hand in counter insurgency, the journalist has to deal with terrorist groups known for their duplicity and ruthlessness as well as intelligence agencies that are forever suspicious of the media. At the same time they are willing to use the media to their advantage, planting stories and attempting to extract information. Under the circumstances journalists as Shahzad frequently cross the red lines once they come across truths which they feel is their duty to inform the public.
What is intriguing about Shahzad’s death was that he had reported of a threat by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) as indicated by Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Ali Dayan Hasan. “The other day he visited our office and informed us that ISI had threatened him. He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and threats,” Hasan was reported by the AFP. This input was shared by others whom Shahzad had sent an Email and thus can be corroborated. The ISI came to its own defence with an official stating that the Agency had indeed been in touch with Shahzad on a number of occasions but was not involved in the incident and should not be unnecessarily maligned for the same. At the same time the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack underlining the risks that Shahzad ran.
Shahzad’s most recent story exposed an attempt by the Al Qaeda to free some of its sympathizers serving in the Navy and had been apprehended by the Force. The Al Qaeda was negotiating for their release and once the Navy refused it was inferred that the terrorist attack on Mehran Naval Base in Karachi was launched by the Group which led to the loss of two P 3 C Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
It was alleged that more skeletons of the links of the ISI with terrorist groups including possibly with presence of Bin Laden in Abottabad were likely to be revealed by Shahzad or other sensational news which would have embarrassed the Establishment which saw the best option was to get rid of him. On the other hand the Taliban and the Al Qaeda would be equally happy to have seen the last of the martyr given his probing nature and a fair and unshakable stance against violence and deceit.
There are many lesser known journalists in Pakistan who have been targeted from time to time. Their numbers run in scores. Yet despite this potent threat the valiant media persons in the country are determined to follow the path of information and investigation adopted by Shahzad. The civil society in Pakistan will have to stand up with them and not allow to be so mercilessly exposed to the forces of anarchy be it the terrorist groups or intelligence agencies. For it is the likes of Shahzad who are the strength of a nation seen by many weakening each day. Hopefully the courage of these media foot soldiers will inspire others in Pakistan to combat the forces of extremism and violence in the days and month ahead.
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