By Dr Ghayur Ayub

Killing of Saleem Shahzad is an unforgivable offence. Those who killed him mercilessly after apparently torturing him, should not get away with it. According to a news item, he left home in Islamabad at around 5 pm to appear in a talk show on a private channel. He did not reach there. It was reported that after his wife rang her husband's friends and still could not locate his whereabouts, an important intelligence agency was contacted. The report said that earlier the same agency showed its annoyance with SS when he wrote and spoke about the 'inner hands' in naval base attack. According to news reports, the agency told her that he would be handed over to the family safe and sound. Three days later, he was found dead in a canal at Mandi Baha-u-din and buried as an unidentified person. Forty eight hours prior to his disappearance, he appeared on a popular talk show and made damaging remarks on the naval base incidence. That was his last appearance on a live talk show. One of the hosts of the show indicated the danger SS could face for what he had said.

There have been an increasing number of killings of journalists in Pakistan in recent years. Today, Pakistan is rated amongst the most dangerous countries of the world for journalism. Saleem Shahzad was one of those journalists who bore the brunt of this persecution and lost his life. His killing sparked anger amongst the people and emotions reached new heights. The known media unions got together on one platform and demanded with one voice, a free commission of inquiry headed by a sitting judge to investigate the case and affix responsibility. They were joined by Asma Jahangir, the vibrant and outspoken president of the Supreme Court Bar Association along with other known political and civilian personalities in front of the parliament. The government caved in and accepted their demand. The Commission has started working. We don't know about the results yet. All we can do is to speculate. For example we can predict three possible outcomes: the agency in question killed him; some 'other group' did the job; both played a part in his death. Let us discuss them one by one.


If the commission comes up with a report involving the agency, it might have one of the two configurations. First, the agency did it for political reasons. In that case the agency will be in real trouble, facing its make or break point. Most probably the latter. Its already declining image will take a nosedive and the opposing stakeholders, both within and outside the country, will have a feast. They will change their guns to greater calibre and start shooting. The injured agency, as a result, will weaken the army and a weak army can break the back of the country.

Second, the agency found that Saleem Shahzad was involved in anti-state activities. After all, one of the main duties of the agency is to keep an eye on those elements which are working against the interests of the state. But it doesn't mean the agency should start extra-judicial killings. Such killing is not defendable in any civil society or in any court of law. But the damaging effect will not be as disastrous as the one expected from political cause. Having said that, it will cast a dark shadow on the professional career of the late journalist. His image as an independent professional will be damaged and the integrity of his forthcoming book will be questioned. It will also cast doubts upon the integrity of other journalists.  The uncontrolled freedom of our media will be questioned by ordinary people in places like barber shops as well as by the elitists in drawing rooms. The half a decade journey of free-for-all journalism will face damaging speed breakers.

  Strains in Pak-Iran relations

In case of the second speculative outcome of the agency not being involved would mean that some 'other group' did the killing. This presumption can also give birth to two possibilities. First, they found Saleem Shahzad was becoming too big for his boots and because of his ambitious nature, he was becoming a liability, putting them in danger of getting exposed. Thus, they decided to eliminate him. Second, in doing so they wanted to malign Pakistan's prestigious intelligence agency. If we combine these two, a third possibility also emerges that both played their role. How so?

The agency in question, which according to recent international survey tops the world's top ten intelligence agencies, cannot be so sloppy as to assure Saleem's safety and then kill him. This just doesn't make sense. Therefore, a strong possibility arises that the 'other group' was 'listening' to the telephones and when they heard the conversation between Saleem's wife with the agency, they decided to kill two birds with one stone. After the journalist was released by the agency, he was picked up by the 'group'. The rest is history. The 'group' used free media to its advantage and was pretty successful. The question is, who are the members of the 'group'?

According to reports, there are a large number of foreigners working in private firms like Blackwater and Xse recruited by CIA/Mossad, who entered Pakistan through the generous visa providers of our foreign missions. They could easily have danced to the tune of certain western countries in order to demolish the agency's image, not only in the eyes of the west but also in the Pakistani public. One doesn't have to be Plato to understand which country or countries have that kind of interest in our intelligence agency. The big question is if the evidence showed the involvement of these firms; will the Zardari government take it further and expose 'the group' and the country or countries linked to it without fear of its negative repercussions on future relationships with the relevant country or countries. In doing so the government will not only clear the agency in the eyes of the Pakistani public, but also expose the real culprits internationally. If the government fails to do so, what will the agency do? Will it take it lying down or will it make a come back even if its actions derail the democracy? Whatever happens, one thing is clear – the report is going to open a Pandora's box full of what-ifs.