Rising anger amid accusations about who killed Shahzad

Just a few pointers to the angry discussion that is going on among Pakistan’s journalists about the killing of Saleem Shahzad. The Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) seems to have emerged as the prime target of accusation, but it has rejected claims of any involvement.

In an Associated Press of Pakistan article Tuesday slugged “Salim Shahzad death source of concern for entire nation: ISI official,” an unnamed ISI official denied allegations that the agency was involved in Shahzad’s death. APP is the official news agency for the Pakistan government. The pro-military and security establishment PakNationalists website followed suit with a reprint headlined “Stop Using Saleem Shahzad’s Death To Target ISI.” And here’s the BBC’s take on the ISI response.

The APP article elicited a fuming response Wednesday from Hameed Haroon, the president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (and a former employer of Shahzad). It’s not on the society’s website, so I’ve pasted it below. Hameed goes to bat for Human Rights Watch, whose South Asia researcher Ali Dayan Hasan sounded the alarm once he had heard from Shazad’s wife, Anita Saleem, that her husband had gone missing Sunday evening. One note here: Haroon was a prominent speaker at a round table that CPJ had organized with journalists in Karachi on May 5. His presentation centered around establishing a research and support organization to respond to attacks on journalists, which is not a bad idea at all.

Here’s a cut-and paste-of Haroon’s very angry response to the ISI article, which I received by email.

NEW YORK. JUNE 1. A leading newspaper publisher in Pakistan and the president of the nationwide newspapers body has reacted sharply to charges by the Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI)  that allegations by Human Rights Watch of the intelligence agency’s involvement in the murder of Pakistani journalist Salim Shahzad were “baseless.”

Me Hameed Haroon, President of APNS said in a written statement today:

It has come to my notice that a spokesman of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) while speaking to the official national news agency in Islamabad yesterday has questioned the “baseless allegations” leveled by Human Rights Watch on the basis of an email from Salim Shahzad, the Bureau Chief of the Hong Kong based Asia Times Online, in their possession. Mr Shahzad was murdered three days ago near Islamabad after being abducted by unknown persons.

I wish to state on record that the email in the possession of Mr Ali Dayan, the monitor for Human Rights Watch (HRW) stationed in Lahore Pakistan, is indeed one of the three identical E mails sent by Mr Shahzad to HRW, his employers (Asia Times Online) and to his former employer, myself. I also wish to verify that allegations levied by HRW at the Inter services Intelligence (ISI) are essentially in complete consonance with the contents of the slain journalists email.

In their denial issued Wednesday an anonymous spokesman from the ISI has questioned the “baseless allegation” leveled against ISI by Mr Dayan of HRW. I wish to state on the record for the information of the officers involved in investigating journalist Salim Shahzad’s gruesome murder, that the late journalist confided to me and several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years. Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Mr Shahzad’s last testimony. Mr Shahzad’s purpose in transmitting this information to three concerned colleagues in the media 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 a.m. on October 18, 2010, wherein he recounted the details of his meetings at the ISI headquarters in Islamabad between the Director General- Media Wing (ISI) Rear-Admiral Adnan Nazir, with the Deputy Director General of the Media Wing, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, also being present on the occasion.

The ostensible agenda for this meeting was the subject of Mr Shahzad’s story of Asia Times Online with respect to the Pakistan government freeing of senior Afghan Taliban commander, Mullah Baraadar. Mr Shahzad informed the senior officials that he story was leaked by a intelligence channel in Pakistan, and confirmed thereafter by the “most credible Taliban source.” The senior officials present suggested to Mr Shahzad that he officially deny the story, which he refused to do, terming the official’s demand as “impractical.”

The senior intelligence official was “curious” to identify the source of Mr Shahzad’s story claiming it to be a “shame” that such a leak should occur from the offices of a high profile intelligence service. Mr Shahzad additionally stated that the Rear-Adimral offered him some information, ostensibly “as a favour ” in the following words : ” We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, diaries and other materials during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name on the list I will certainly let you know.”

Mr Shahzad subsequently confirmed to me in a conversation that he not only interpreted this conversation as a veiled threat to his person. He also informed me that he let an official from the ISI know soon thereafter that he intended share the content of this threat with his colleagues.

As President of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and as head of Pakistan’s leading media group I consider the security of journalists to be of paramount importance. At present the APNS has officially committed itself to the creation of a national body for the investigations of serious threats to the lives of journalists, a body which the Committee to Protect the Journalists in New York, and other leading organizations in the Pakistani press and human rights bodies have promised to lend vigorous support to. Pakistan has one of the high rates in the world for journalists killings and such an environment is inimical to the functioning of democracy. The government and the intelligence agencies should take the investigation into Mr Shahzad’s murder seriously and examine his last testimony closely.

Whether the Oct 18th incident itself or his last article in the Asia Times Online that alleged Al-Qaeda penetration of the security curtain for Pakistani Naval establishment in Karachi hastened his murder is for the official investigation to uncover. And nobody not even the ISI should be above the law.

Hameed Haroon




One more point:

I’ve been exchanging messages with Associated Press correspondent Paul Wiseman for a few days. Like many others, he’s been asking what he can do to help make sure the Shahzad case doesn’t melt away like the cases of  so many other journalists in Pakistan. And he offered this thought about Shahzad:

I got in touch with Saleem about five years ago after reading his stuff at Asia Times. As the Asia correspondent for USA Today, I was struggling to understand the labyrinth politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan and asked for his help. He was generous with his time–we talked by phone and e-mail and eventually met a couple of times at the Islamabad Marriott. He also introduced me to a fellow journalist who became my fixer, collaborator and friend. I continued to read and admire Saleem’s work even after I returned to the States in 2009. He was thorough and fearless. I smiled through my grief this morning when I read his response to an editor who suggested that he lie low for a while after receiving threats from the Pakistani intelligence agency: “If I hold back and don’t do my job, I might as well just make the tea.” Pakistan could use a few thousand more like him.