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Syed Saleem Shahzad speaks from the grave June 1, 2011

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, Pakistan , trackback

Sandy Gordon

Syed Saleem Shazad was a Pakistani journalist whose body was recently found in a canal 150 kilometres from his home in Islamabad.  He had been tortured prior to being killed.  He wrote for an Italian news agency, Adnkronos International and, more prominently, Asian Times Online, the on-line, Hong Kong-based successor to The Asian Times.  He was killed either by the Pakistani intelligence or the militants – that much is certain. Either way, his killing gives considerable credibility to recent work from his pen.  It is therefore important to examine that work to see exactly what it was that got his killers offside, since another certainty arising from his death is that at least part of what he had to say has struck a very raw nerve somewhere.

Syed Saleem Shahzad

His most recent article covered the attack by militants on the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi.  Shahzad claimed this was an attack by the al Qaida affiliate, Ilyas Kashmiri and his 313 Brigade.  According to Shahzad, the attack was in revenge for the arrest of a number of lower level navel personnel with alleged links to militants. The attack on the base was preceded by several attacks on naval busses in Karachi.  These attacks were, in themselves, interesting, because they were so unusual.  Shahzad says they represented a warning to release the arrested individuals – a warning which wasn’t obeyed – hence the attack on the base.  He also claimed that those held by the navy prior to the attack were constantly moved, but the militants always seemed to know where they were located and that the attackers of the base had ‘inside help’.  Shahzad claims these facts indicate the depth of militant support inside the navy.

Shahzad alleged that he had been warned several times by senior ISI personnel to desist from his exposures.  The account of the most recent warning – allegedly by two senior naval personnel in ISI – was passed to a colleague in case of his disappearance.  It has now been released.  Amnesty International in Pakistan is convinced Pakistani intelligence is involved in his disappearance.

Shazad had previously claimed that Ilyas Kashmiri provided assistance for the bombing attack  in Pune in early 2010 in which nine were killed.  At the time, this claim was disputed, but subsequent events show Kashmiri was in some way involved in the Pune attack.

Kashmiri himself is located in North Waziristan, part of the FATA tribal area that the Pakistani military has hitherto desisted from attacking, despite the US urging them to do so.  North Waziristan is also the location of the Haqqani Network, a terrorist group involved in cross border attacks in Afghanistan, but considered by Pakistan to be ‘our terrorists’. Interestingly, Pakistan has now agreed to conduct a limited attack on North Waziristan, possibly to get Kashmiri.

Although we have Shahzad’s own account of the several warnings he had been given by the ISI, we must also ask just why the ISI would have had him killed on this occasion given the brazen nature of the act following several warnings.

One possibility is that in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden by the Americans on May 2, any convincing account of the extent to which the Pakistani military had been radicalised and infiltrated would lend credence to the argument that bin Laden had support from within the military. Although the proverbial ‘blind Freddy’ could have seen that the attackers on PNS Mehran had significant inside help, Shahzad’s account seemed especially rich in detail.  This killing, then, would have been intended as a highly public warning that the specifics of militancy within the ranks of the military were off bounds to journalists.  If true, this shows just how brazen the ISI has become – that it would threaten a journalist writing in the foreign press and then actually carry it out.

A second, equally likely, explanation is that Shahzad was killed by 313 Brigade for identifying their involvement in the PNS Mehran attack. Shahzad apparently had an edgy set of contacts with his sources deep amongst the militants.  On at least one occasion he speaks of being ‘warned off’ by these contacts, presumably on the basis he had taken his reporting into areas they did not want him to go.  Perhaps his exposure of 313 Brigade’s involvement in the PNS Mehran attack – an exposure that may well have led to the decision by the Pakistani government to attack militants in North Waziristan where Kashmiri is located – crossed that ‘invisible line’ between serving the purposes of one’s sources and acting against their interests.  But against this explanation, the Pakistanis have captured several of the attackers and are well placed to determine from them just who mounted the attack.  Even so, this would not discount the motive of revenge on Shahzad for what was seen as a breach of confidence.

Whoever killed Shahzad, the ‘take home’ message of this encounter is the dangerous extent to which the Pakistani military has evidently been infiltrated by militancy.  That was Shahzad’s claim – a claim unfortunately reinforced by his killing.

POST SCRIPT: Shahzad’s post mortem indicates he was beaten and tortured but that his body had no gunshot or knife wounds.  He appeared to have died from one or more blows to the torso. This would seem to indicate that those who abducted him may, in fact, have intended to give him a severe beating as a warning, but that they killed him accidentally in the process.  If this interpretation is correct, it would point the finger at the intelligence agencies rather than the militants, since the militants would have been more likely simply to have killed him outright by either shooting him or cutting his throat.







1. Walter - June 1, 2011

I used to read Shazad articles with great interest. He was, in comparison with my country’s journalists, in another universe. Always extremely well informed and his investigations were deep . I greatly regret his death and I hope his family found some confort in the fact that the world won’t forget him and his words