There is a rage storming over the findings presented on January 10 by the Pakistani judicial commission that probed the abduction and murder of the journalist. But, this is like a chain reaction. Does anyone recall that an NGO buried his body?
In a June 2, 2011 article Lessons From Shahzad’s Murder, I had written:
Pakistan is the most dreaded place for journalists. The pronouncement has been made. Yet a Pakistani reporter, and a person with an insider view of the al Qaeda and Taliban, Syed Saleem Shahzad’s brutal killing was not the top news on the websites of three prominent dailies in the country. The internet allows you to update stories. Since they have carried the news, it cannot be fear. Some call it (Pakistan) a police state. A police state has order and the level of shackling is complete, except perhaps for underground movements.
We will revisit a few salient points from that piece later.
Some of the current media talk is bizarre:
Though the commission was given six weeks to investigate the incident after Shahzad was killed in May last year, it took six months to finalise its findings. The commission led by a Supreme Court judge submitted its report to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday.
Why was it given six weeks? Don’t many cases drag on? Was the media following up? How many petitions were filed by news agencies or independent journalists?
The report has not held any institution or individual responsible for the abduction, torture and murder of Shahzad. The Dawn newspaper quoted its sources as saying that the panel had "stopped short of fixing responsibility for the journalist's killing". The commissions members have agreed that the report would be made public only by the government.
"We have strongly recommended that the report be made public by government as soon as possible," an unnamed member told the Dawn.
Under the commission's terms of reference, it was asked to "inquire into the background and circumstance" of Shahzad's murder and to "identify the culprits involved" in the crime. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists president Pervaiz Shaukat, a member of the commission, said that while the panel had not held anyone directly responsible, it had included its doubts and concerns in the report.
What else are investigations about? How much information did the media have? If the government is complicit in the case, then one would be curious about the doubts and concerns. What I’d like to know is the reason for the initial silence of the ‘lambs’. Here, let me take you back to those pestering thoughts I had expressed:
Shahzad had been taken in by the Taliban in 2006 on suspicion of being a spy; he was released after seven days. He knew the perils of his profession and had also registered his fears with Human Rights Watch of Pakistan. He disappeared on Sunday, May 29. A police complaint was registered by his family. Did any human rights organisation do anything instead of being “disturbed” that a state agency might be involved? The media does have considerable influence and can approach government functionaries directly or interview them. Was any of that done? He had left that evening to attend a talk show on a television channel. Did the channel keep flashing the news about his disappearance?
This is strange that the local police picks up a body, conducts a post-mortem that reveals torture, and hands it to a NGO that goes ahead and buries it. No questions asked. Later, the Islamabad cops and the local ones realise the identity matches that of Shahzad, which his papers would have shown anyway. His family had to seek permission to exhume his body to confirm his identity. How can an unidentified person be temporarily buried? There are mortuaries in hospitals and the police ought to have alerted the intelligence agencies.
The Pakistani media will in the coming days raise questions about the ISI, which really is the state of Pakistan today, as in what comprises the nation-state. To extricate the ISI from the other arms of Pakistani polity is to merely play a game of chess and move the pawns about. The chess board remains the same.
Cut to now. The ISI denies it role. What did anyone expect?