‘Learn your lesson, identify the safe areas and play there…’

Saleem Shehzad - facebook page photo

Just posted to my beena-issues yahoogroup:

Uploaded to my blog: HRCP URGENT APPEAL for Muzaffar Bhutto, Gen. Secy Jeay Sindh Muttaheda Mahaz.

Another disappearance on Sunday didn’t end well. I felt sick hearing the news that Saleem Shehzad, the Asia Times correspondent who had gone ‘missing’ from Islamabad, was found dead, with torture marks on his body. As I write this, his body, exhumed from a hurriedly dug grave at the behest of a judge, was being sent for a second autopsy to establish the cause of death.

Saleem Shehzad is the latest in the over 70 journalists who have lost their lives in the country over the past decade – murders for which no one has yet been brought to book as Adnan Rehmat reminds us in his excellent comment, pointing out that Shehzad was killed for daring to attempt to share information that affects Pakistan and its people (in Dawn).

He had disappeared while driving to Dunya TV to participate in a talk show. From the subsequent twitter buzz we learnt that he had asked his wife to call Human Rights Watch if anything were to happen to him. HRW also later made public an email from Saleem Shehzad in which he outlined details of a meeting he had been summoned to. Excerpt:

“For future reference:
“Meeting details as on October 17, 2010 at the ISI headquarters Islamabad between DG Media Wing ISI, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir and Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Bureau Chief Pakistan for Asia Times Online (Hong Kong). Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, the Deputy Director General of Media Wing ISI was also present during the conversation.
Agenda of the meeting: discussion on Asia Times Online story published on October 15, 2010, titled Pakistan frees Taliban commander (see http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LJ16Df02.html).”

The ISI wanted Shehzad to reveal his sources, which he refused to do but the meeting ended amicably. The complete text along with a comment, is at Ahsan Butt’s blog.

After the attack on Mehran Navy Base in Karachi, Saleem Shehzad wrote the first part of an investigative report in which he revealed the linkages of some navy officers with Al Qaeda. According to him, the Mehran attack was launched in retaliation when the talks of these navy officers and Al Qaeda broke down. Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike, May 27, 2011.

Two days later, he disappeared. On May 31st, as many activists in Pakistan woke up thinking of Salmaan Taseer on his birthday, news of Saleem Shehzad’s disappearance began to make a buzz on twitter with the hashtag #freesaleemshehzad. As I posted later, both men appear to have been killed by two strands of same ideology (agencies, taliban).

A journalist in Karachi tagged me with the following comment: “a person like you shouldn’t be promoting someone who makes a living of different agencies feed. He is no journo.” The American analyst C. Christine Fair commented that he had probably been taken away for a ‘briefing’. Either she or someone else added that he would probably re-emerge with a Mullah Omar interview (Ms Fair has since removed her tweets implying that Saleem Shehzad had ‘agency’ links). I was reminded of Umar Cheema, and so many other journalists who have been taught similar lessons by the agencies that they were thought to be in cahoots with.

My response was that if a journalist has some dubious sources, doesn’t make it right for agencies to abduct him. In Pakistan, many journalists who report on security matters – or any fascist, secretive groups/organisations – have sources within those ‘agencies’ or groups. This gives them access to scoops and inside information. However, it also sometimes makes their stories less credible because one doesn’t know what part of the information is being deliberately ‘leaked’. It’s a price they – and we – pay, in closed societies where there is no freedom of information.

Now, as Nusrat Javeed said bitterly on Bolta Pakistan, May 31st, Saleem Shehzad’s murder is a message to all journalists in Pakistan

Rough paraphrase of Nusrat Javeed’s words: “Say a prayer for Saleem Shahid, then talk about cricket, who’s going to be the next captain, gossip, get good ratings. Television is all about ratings. This the message we must understand. Get your ratings, talk about the corruption of politicians, of drones, go ahead and bash America, spread Imran Khan’s thoughts from house to house, even better, leave journalism – Learn your lesson, identify the safe areas and play there. I myself am like cooking – ‘Nusrat can cook’ – you get to travel also…”

Saleem Shehzad’s disappearance and murder made headline news because he was a prominent journalist. But such disappearances and murders have been taking place in Balochistan for some time – of human rights activists and journalists – a situation barely reflected in the mainstream media as this comment by Café Pyala points out – based on a BBC Urdu.com video by Sharjil Baloch on the oblivion of people in Lahore to Balochistan

The question is, how come only critics of establishment get killed in mysterious circumstances if the ‘establishment’ is not involved? As this hard-hitting editorial in Daily Times puts it “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” – The price of truth

5 Responses

  1. [...] ‘Learn your lesson, identify the safe areas and play there…’ [...]

  2. Good blog. Was Nusrat Javed being sarcastic?

    • He was saying it like it is. You want to be safe – play the game they are letting you play, don’t overstep your boundaries.

    • Yes, of course, he is being sarcastic, for God’s sake.

  3. How long will the nation suffer in silence and fear? If we had viable unions of journalists, lawyers, doctors and students, agencies would have thought twice before laying their dirty hands on members of civil society. We cannot reform this rotten system, it needs to be dismantled and a new social order put in place.

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