A friend remembers Saleem Shahzad

When I received an unexpected call early Monday morning from Saleem Shahzad’s wife, I knew I was in for some bad news.

“Saleem has not come home since Sunday evening, when he was on his way to a television studio,” she said. She told me that she then remained as composed as possible until she received a call informing her of his death 48 hours later.

Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times, was abducted from one of Islamabad’s most secure areas on Sunday, on his way to participate in a talk show on Dunya TV. In a dark coincidence, the subject he was going to discuss was security threats to Pakistan. According to news photographs and media accounts about the post mortem, he apparently died from injuries he sustained while being tortured. His body was found near his car some 250 kilometers (165 miles) from Islamabad. 

Shahzad’s kidnapping, in the Pakistani capital’s most protected area, has shocked the media community, although there have been other killings: Shahzad was the fourth journalist killed this year.

So far, no one has so far claimed the responsibility for the murder but some of his colleagues suspect intelligence agencies are responsible for his abduction and killing. His book on “Inside Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” was about to be published and it was going to name names.

I’ve know Shahzad since 1990, when he joined the Karachi-based newspaper The Star. At that time, I was the chief reporter at the paper. It was Shahzad who always looked for stories linked to ethnic, sectarian or Islamist terrorism. He was always outspoken. Despite my advice to be more careful after the 9/11 attacks, Shazhad continued reporting on terrorism after he joined Asia Times. After he received threats from many sources, he moved to Islamabad.

For years, I worried his beat would lead him to his death; that his bold writing on intelligence agencies, Al-Qaeda and Taliban, would make him a mark for the very groups he wrote about. It has done so, apparently. But it was also his greatest reporting.