Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad: Why is he not alive?

Asia Times
What is truth? According to Merriam-Webster, truth is defined as: fact, the body of real things, an idea that is true or accepted as true, and reality. What then is a journalist? A journalist is a writer who aims at a mass audience through the medium of journalism. Journalism is writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or a description of events without an attempt at interpretation. This means a journalism is a writer who writes truth without personal opinion based upon fact and reality.

Journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was the Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online, covering issues of global security, focusing on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Shahzad has reported on Islamist movements, taking him to Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.

Saleem introduced the world to al-Qaeda and Sheikh Essa. His interviews included: Taliban commanders Sirajuddin Haqqani and

Qari Ziaur Rahman, and Ilyas Kashmiri, who leads 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.

On May 20, 2011, 11 days before his untimely death, Saleem's new book was released: Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 through Pluto Press in the UK. On May 4, Shahzad wrote of the death of Osama bin Laden.

In November of 2007, Saleem constructed a brief on Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU) entitled: The Gathering Strength of Taliban and Tribal Militants in Pakistan. The brief focused on extremism, terrorism, nuclear weapons, internal stability and cohesion, and was a useful resource for anyone interested in the security of Pakistan.

To quote Saleem: "The unending Pakistan/NATO/US military operations in the tribal areas, which are seen by Taliban and tribal groups as being fought for a complete victory and without a will for political reconciliation, have radicalized Pakistan's North West Frontier Province."

"After 9/11, a very rustic religious zeal and the Taliban's affinity with Pakistani tribal groups was the reason behind providing shelter to the Arab-Afghan Diaspora in South Waziristan and North Waziristan, but Washington-sponsored Pakistan's half-hearted military operations in 2002-03 united some of the force in a shared war of retribution."


What Saleem is presenting is an investigative document based on historical fact and research without imbuing it with his own opinion. What then again is truth? The body of real things. A journalist? A writer who aims at an audience with a direct presentation of fact without adding his own opinion.

On May 31, 2011, Saleem Shahzad was found dead. Syed Saleem Shahzad went missing on Sunday, after he left his home in the capital to take part in a talk show, but never arrived. He disappeared two days after writing an investigative report in Asia Times Online that Al-Qaeda carried out last month's attack on a naval air base to avenge the arrest of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links (see Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike, Asia Times Online, May 26).

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists and Democracy Now have issued public statements regarding the abject horror over one man's death. In 2006, Saleem was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet he remained alive.

Refer to Saleem's 2007 brief: "As Western-backed military operations continue, Taliban numbers are rising steeply and their confidence is growing. They have even been joined by some Pakistan Army officers who have resigned from the Pakistan Army."

He continued with: "The Taliban are planning to take the war to Pakistan and Afghanistan's major cities and to build an Islamic Emirate. The more the US-backed war is prolonged, the more sophisticated the Taliban will be in their strategic development."

Read the above sentence again.

And again.

That was 2007.

The Associated Press of Pakistan reports: "President Asif Ali Zardari expressed his deep grief and sorrow ... The President expressed his determination to bring the culprits to justice. He said the present government firmly believes in freedom of media and promotion of democratic values."

The constitution of Pakistan states in the preamble: "Therein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality."

In Part II: Chapter 1: Fundamental Rights: Article 19: "Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of, or incitement to an offence."

Read that again.

After Saleem's body was found some six miles (10 kilometers) from his car, an initial exam found signs of torture, but autopsy results were pending.

Article 5: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Saleem Shahzad was a journalist in the truest sense. He presented fact without his own opinion. Why then is he not alive?

Article 19: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Saleem Shahzad is survived by his wife Anita and three children. Purchase his book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 through Pluto Press to further his work in journalism and assist his family in their time of such unnecessary loss.

Explosions and street fighting grip Yemen capital

Renewed fighting in Yemen's capital between a powerful tribal group and President Ali Abdullah Saleh forces this week has killed at least 19 people and rocked Sanaa with explosions, officials said on Wednesday.

Global powers have been pressing Saleh to sign a Gulf-led deal to end his three-decade rule and stem spreading chaos in unstable Yemen, a haven for al Qaeda militants and neighbor to the world's biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia.

Kuwait, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council that tried unsuccessfully to broker a power transfer deal, said it had evacuated its diplomatic staff from Yemen. Qatar, another GCC member, has also suspended most operations there.

Witnesses said they heard several blasts but were not sure of the cause or the damage near the Hasaba district -- the focal point of fighting last week that killed at least 115 people and pushed the country closer to civil war.

"There are very powerful explosions. Sounds like missiles or mortars. May God protect us," a Hasaba resident said.

This week, there have been three main flashpoints in the country -- the fighting in the capital, government troops gunning down protesters in Taiz in the south and a battle with al Qaeda and Islamic militants in the coastal city of Zinjibar.

Residents also reported overnight fighting near Sanaa airport, which was closed briefly last week during skirmishes between Saleh's forces and opponents within the powerful Hashed tribal confederation, who are led by Sadeq al-Ahmar.

Fourteen soldiers were killed in overnight fighting with the tribesmen, the Defense Ministry website said.

Medical officials told Reuters at least five other people had been killed in the recent fighting, which may have entered a new phase with some troops in armored vehicles joining the opposition, suggesting more military defections from Saleh.


Some military leaders broke away from Saleh in March after his troops fired on protesters calling for an end to his 33-year-old rule. Yemen is on the brink of financial ruin, with about a third of its 23 million people facing chronic hunger.

The political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a report the most likely outcome is that Saleh leaves through a political deal he brokers from a position of weakness, or is ousted by force by breakaway military units and tribal leaders.

"Saleh is unlikely to survive 2011 as president of Yemen; however the likelihood of a managed transition is decreasing, and an attempt to forcibly oust Saleh from power is becoming more likely," the report said.

"Saleh leaving power early does not result in a functional Yemeni state that can reassert control over the country in the short term," it added.

The president's close relatives, who control Yemen's most lucrative sources of revenue and state assets, are pressuring him not to give up power, a diplomatic source told Reuters.

Omani authorities were trying to tighten a long and porous border between Yemen and Oman to halt any refugee inflow, an Omani Foreign Ministry official told Reuters.


Yemen is awash with weaponry and corruption and racked by a secessionist movement in the south, a Shi'ite insurrection in the north and a growing al Qaeda presence in the center. About 40 percent of its people live on less than $2 a day.

Saleh has exasperated his rich Gulf Arab neighbors by three times agreeing to step down, only to renege at the last minute.

He drew the ire of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after his troops fired on protesters in the city of Taiz, about 200 kms (120 miles) south of the capital. The chief U.N. human rights envoy said her office was investigating reports that at least 50 people have been killed there since Sunday.

Analysts are worried that instability in Yemen, sitting on a shipping lane that carries about 3 million barrels of oil a day, could embolden a local al Qaeda wing which has attempted attacks on the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Locals and Yemeni troops have been fighting to recapture the coastal city of Zinjibar, which was taken over by several hundred al Qaeda and Islamist militants at the weekend.

Six soldiers and four gunmen were killed in clashes in two areas near Zinjibar, a local security official said.

Residents said parts of the city were hit by artillery and missiles as troops tried to push out militants.

ISI faces more heat after reporter's killing

Speculation that Pakistan's military spy agency had a hand in the death of a prominent journalist has further discredited the organization already facing one of its worst crises after the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.

Saleem Shahzad, who worked for Hong-Kong based Asia Times Online and Italian news agency Adnkronos International, disappeared from Islamabad on Sunday and his body was found in a

canal with what police said were torture marks.

Suspicion immediately fell on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, bringing more bad publicity after the killing of bin Laden by U.S. special forces near the capital.

The U.S. raid opened the agency up to international suspicion it was complicit in hiding bin Laden, and to domestic criticism for failing to detect or stop the U.S. team.

"The ISI's image had already been tarnished and it is under so much pressure," said a former ISI officer. "It's never been as bad as this before."

Shahzad was investigating suspected links between the military and al Qaeda, a highly sensitive subject at a time when Washington is wondering how bin Laden was able to live for years in a town about a two-hour drive from ISI headquarters.

The military denies any collusion with al Qaeda.

Human Rights Watch said Shahzad, a 40-year-old father of three, had voiced concern about his safety after receiving threatening telephone calls from the ISI and was under surveillance since 2010.

The ISI rejected suggestions of its involvement and criticized the media for jumping to that conclusion.

"Baseless accusations against the country's sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad's murder are totally unfounded," the ISI said in a statement.

"In the absence of any evidence and when an investigation is still pending, such allegations tantamount to unprofessional conduct on the part of the media."

Analysts have not ruled out the possibility that he may have been killed by militants. Shahzad often wrote about al Qaeda and other groups.


He was buried on Wednesday in his hometown of Karachi, where suicide bombings have killed hundreds and security forces face some of their toughest battles against militancy.

Shahzad's wooden coffin was lowered in a graveyard as relatives, journalists and politicians looked on.

"It's cruel. My brother is gone. How will I live without my brother?," asked his sister, Maryam, after prayers were said.

Pakistan has a vibrant press which often attacks the government over everything from corruption to poor services and economic stagnation.

But criticism of the ISI or military is rare.

Reporters say Shahzad's death raises troubling questions about freedoms in Pakistan, which receives billions in aid from ally Washington and describes itself is a democracy.

"It means we are being pushed to the wall and losing space to tyranny if the ISI carried this out," said Umar Cheema, a journalist who knows all about the risks of investigating Pakistan's security establishment.

Last year, he was picked up by suspected intelligence agents, driven to an unknown location, stripped naked and whipped with leather and a wooden rod, he said.

"Pakistan is my beloved country but nobody is safe in Pakistan. I live in what I call self-imposed house arrest because I am scared to go out," said Cheema.

Shahzad was killed after he wrote a story that claimed al Qaeda attacked a naval base in Karachi last month after negotiations with the military to release two naval officials accused of militant links broke down.

That assault further humiliated the Pakistani military.

Some believe that with its loss of credibility after the bin Laden fiasco, and the naval base siege, the ISI may come under more public scrutiny for its apparent failure to tackle militancy and ease suicide bombings.

"Fewer people believe that the ISI is this powerful agency. People will start asking tougher questions," said Rifaat Hussain, head of the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

"They may be more willing to ask why the ISI is tapping the telephones of the opposition when it should be providing more security for the country."

But equally likely is that journalists will think twice about writing hard-hitting stories after Shahzad's death.

Others have died in similar circumstances in Pakistan, the world's most dangerous country for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders.

"It is a death. The death of expression," said Matiullah Jan, a correspondent with Dawn News television.

"There is an apprehension in certain quarters that it's meant to send a shut-up message."

Pakistani journalists defiant at reporter's burial

A Pakistani reporter who investigated terrorism and was found slain after telling a rights activist he'd been threatened by intelligence agents was buried Wednesday. Fellow journalists vowed his killing would not silence them.

Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote for the Asia Times Online and other publications. He delved into topics that were often sensitive in Pakistan, where journalists face threats from insurgents as well as a security establishment that operates largely outside the law.

"We will not shut our voices down," said Azhar Abbas, a prominent Pakistani journalist. "The journalist community is united on this. We will not stop "

Pakistan was the deadliest country for journalists in 2010, with at least eight killed in the line of duty, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Six died in suicide attacks, the group said in a report late last year.

Despite the dangers, the media establishment in Pakistan has expanded rapidly over the past decade, and reporters here operate with tremendous freedom compared with many other developing countries.

In recent weeks, the media have carried unusually scathing coverage about the security establishment after it was caught unawares by the May 2 U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison city in Pakistan's northwest.

Shahzad's death could heighten the criticism, though commentators are being careful about how they discuss the alleged link to spy agencies.

After disappearing Sunday from Islamabad, Shahzad's body was found dozens of miles outside the capital on Tuesday, bearing signs of torture, police said. His death drew numerous condemnations, including from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The 40-year-old was buried in his hometown, Karachi, as hundreds of friends, relatives, political figures and fellow journalists mourned.

Sindh province Information Minister Sharjeel Memon called the killing a "cowardly act" and promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. But it's unclear how much the weak civilian government can do if, as some suspect, Pakistani security agencies played a role.

A spokesman for Pakistan's premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, called the allegations "absurd." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media on the record.

However, Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he feared Pakistani intelligence agents were after him.

The agencies pressured him to reveal his sources in October after he wrote a story about Pakistan allegedly freeing a detained Afghan Taliban commander, according to an email Shahzad sent Hasan. Hasan said Shahzad was still worried in recent weeks, but kept up his reporting.

Just last week, Shahzad wrote a story about alleged al-Qaida infiltration of the navy. The report came after a 17-hour insurgent siege of a naval base in Pakistan's south added to the recent humiliations suffered by security agencies.

Within days, Shahzad vanished, and his wife contacted Hasan as her husband had instructed in case he disappeared.

In a statement, Clinton said Shahzad's reporting "brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan's stability," and said the U.S. supports the "Pakistani government's investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death."

Frequent bombings in Peshawar


The terror incidents, especially bombings, are fast becoming a routine and causing many children to believe that they are fated to it.

A powerful suicide car bombing at the Criminal Investigation Department police station on the Jamrud Road rocked the provincial capital at almost 4:40 a.m. on Wednesday last when most of the population was asleep. Seven police commandoes and a Pakistan Army soldier were killed and 46 others injured in the terror act. This was not the first time when the people of this terror-stricken city were awakened by the thunder; they have become used to such practices.

Most of the parents told The News that while they remained worried about the state of affairs prevailing in the provincial metropolis due to rising incidence of terror, it was strange and matter of concern for them that their children had started taking such terrorist activities as a routine.

“It seems my children have taking these bombings and blasts as their fate,” said Ali Nasir, a banker who lived in Gulberg area of the Peshawar Cantt where the sound of the devastating car bombing at the CID Police Station was heard far and wide.

Four to five-year-old children got up with the wake up bell, said a mother while referring to the sound of the blast. “Unlike in the past, this time I was astonished to see the reaction of my children as most of them did not show any fearful expression,” said Mrs Samina Ali, while narrating that despite being asleep the children behaved fairly normal and their inert behaviour makes me worried.

Paghunda Khan, 13, a student of grade 8, told The News: “It has now become a routine for us. We go to bed hearing about bombings and wake up with the same news. We have got used to with it but the only factor that upsets me is missing my classes, as it becomes a load for the next day. I asked my daughter not to go to school and she started crying.”

She added that she was to make a presentation which she missed. Mother of Behram Khan, 10, a grade 3 student, said: “My son is very much attached with me and he didn’t even go to sleep until I tender him but this morning his strange behaviour and words surprised me as I turned on the television he insisted to switch it off.”

Behram in a lisping tone said, “Mama, you already know what the news would say now, so and so dead, that many injured and then condemnation from some minister,” his mother said. And what was most surprising to the mother when he did not even insist to have leave from school today.

The concerned parent said the frequent terrorist activities taking place throughout the country had not only made us restless but also alarmed us about the behaviour of our children. Mudassar Ali, an employee of a non-governmental organisation, said: “We grew up seeing Kashmiri people embracing martyrdom, blood shed in Palestine by Israeli troops and Iraq-Kuwait conflict, but all the conflicts and violence had a solid background. But how will we justify this ongoing state of conflict in the name of ‘war against terror’ to our coming generation?”

Clinton condemns killing of Pakistani journalist

US today strongly condemned the abduction and killing of investigative Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shehzad as international media labelled his death as "payback not from militants but country's fearsome spy agency". Supporting Pakistan Government's investigations into the circumstances surrounding his death, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "His work reporting on terrorism and intelligence issues in Pakistan brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan's stability". "We support the Pakistani government's investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death," she said in a statement. "We remain committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan as they work to bring peace and stability to the country," Clinton said. "Syed Saleem Shahzad's killing was payback, other journalists and human rights activists said they believed not from militants, but from Pakistan's fearsome spy agencies", 'The New York Times' and 'Washington Post' reported as the papers gave prominence to his killing. According to the Post, Shahzad's killing also renewed attention on the alleged crossover between militants and Pakistan's security forces, some of which he outlined in his recent article for the Hong Kong-based 'Asia Times Online', for which he was the Pakistan bureau chief.

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. *