PAKISTAN: Saleem Shahzad case -rule of law or rule of ISI?
By William Gomes
Freedom of expression is one of the essential pre-requirements for the practice, protection and promotion of democracy. If we are to speak of a democratic Pakistan we need to examine, whether the media is free. Each and every day media professionals are facing threats of kidnapping or murder for telling the truth.
The truth about the life and death of media professionals in Pakistan is a shocking one. According to the New York based media watchdog ‘Committee to Protect Journalist’ (CPJ) from the year 1992 to 2012 42 journalists were killed in Pakistan. Of the reported 42 cases in 96 percent of the cases the perpetrators enjoyed complete impunity. Only in 4 percent of the cases were the perpetrators brought to justice. In murder cases involving the ISI the impunity was 100 percent.
Any civilized person will ask what are the processes and procedure that allowed for this complete impunity. Professor John Finnis has described the rule of law as the “a state of affairs in which legal system is legally in good shape”. If you look into the details of some of the cases of journalist killings you will notice that the promotion of impunity and protection of the perpetrators indicates how bad the legal system is in Pakistan.
The case of Syed Saleem Shahzad exposes the presence of a mounting corporate militarism and an unbalance in the civil–military relations, which has upended the rule of law. The corporate military of Pakistan is engaged in war against the people of Pakistan. Syed Saleem Shahzad was killed by the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as a part of that war.
Syed Saleem Shazad, a Pakistani investigative journalist for the Hong Kong based Asia Times, disappeared from central Islamabad after writing about the link between Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Navy. International human rights organizations like the Asian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch have publicly accused the Pakistan intelligence services of being behind his killing. But Pakistan’s ISI has vehemently denied the accusations and called them "totally unfounded”.
Where is Syed Saleem Shahzad?
It was widely reported in news media that on 29th of May 2011 Syed Saleem Shahzad left his home at around 5:30 in the evening to participate in a talk show hosted by a private television channel; the Dunya News. The program was scheduled for 6:00 pm, but when the channel's officials tried to contact him via his cell phone at 5:42 pm his cell phone was switched off. He was invited to discuss the contents of his report about the May 22nd attack in which 10 people died on PNS Mehran, a Pakistani naval-base in Karachi. The perpetrators were thought to be militants linked to Al-Qaeda.
Finding out that Saleem’s phones was turned off the Channel’s officials contacted his family members who confirmed that he had left for the television station but could not be contacted. He never reached the TV-station. The next day his family members contacted a number of officials including the police. The family and others were looking for Syed Saleem Shahzad. The brave journalist is still missing as well as the car he was driving. The question on everyone’s lips is where is Syed Saleem Shahzad?
Despite the frantic efforts of his friends and family, there have been no clues of his whereabouts. Hamza Ameer, who is Saleem’s brother in law, reported his disappearance to the local police station. By the next day, the 30th of May, still there were no leads on his whereabouts even though it was widely discussed in the media.
Syed Saleem Shahzad Found
On June 1st around 1.15 pm Hamza Ameer received a phone call from the Margalla police station that Saleem’s car had been found in Sara –e –alamgir, parked at the bank of the upper Jhelum canal. Hamza later identified it as Saleem’s car at the police station. When Hamza went to the police station he was further informed that a dead body had been recovered on May 31st from the canal. The body had already been buried as “Lawaris” by the Eidhi Foundation on request of the police after his post-mortem at the local hospital. Hamza and others identified the body as Saleem after having seen the photographs taken during the post-mortem.
After having been examined by a board of directors at the PIMS hospital, the dead body was taken to Karachi for burial. On the 1st of June 2011 Syed Saleem Shahzad was laid to rest in the Qayyumabad graveyard in Karachi.
Commission Formed to Probe the Murder
On June 18th 2011, bowing to unprecedented pressure from the Pakistani media, the Prime minister Gilani signed an order establishing a judicial commission to probe the murder lead by Justice Nisar. The five-member panel consisted of Justice Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan, Chief Justice of the Federal Shariat Court, two senior police officials from Punjab and Islamabad, and the president of the PUFJ.
The Commission’s Report
In a time span of six months the commission held as many as 23 formal meetings and received information from no less than 41 witnesses. The Commission went through a large volume of documents comprising the writings of the deceased, emails, telephone records and investigation reports.
On January 9th 2012 the judicial commission finalized its report investigating the circumstances around Shahzad's death and submitted the report to the Prime Minister on 10th January 2012.
The commission concluded the report by saying that: ''Firstly, in all probability, the background of this incident is provided by the war on terror''. The report continues and states “Secondly, the commission has been unable to identify the culprits behind this incident. (…) unfortunately, the culprits cannot be indentified”.
What the Probe Commission Did
Although the commission was supposed to submit its report within six weeks of its formation it was delayed for six months. The commission failed to identify the culprits and proved its incompetency in handling the case. The commission did everything to not fix blame on the culprits from the ISI who murdered Syed Saleem Shahzad. The commission also overlooked the importance of human rights- and media organisations.
There are many reasons to question the manner in which the commission was appointed which was contrary to the established principles of law. Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who was president of the commission of inquiry, is infamous for delivering injustice which was proved in the case of Mukhtar Mai. When a judicial commission is led by such a person it can only lead to injustice. The Judicial Commission has made a mockery of justice. The commission once again proved that ISI is beyond the reach of the regular criminal justice system. The formation of commission indicates a presence of a dysfunctional criminal justice system in Pakistan.
The Intelligence Agency and the Commission
The commission stated in the report that it summoned the ISI Brigadier Zihad Mehmood Khan of sector headquarters in central Islamabad to appear before the commission as a representative of ISI. In the report by the commission the ISI confirmed that it held a meeting with Syed Saleem Shahzad and was also in regular contact with him.
Human Rights Watch adds ''Shahzad had previously complained of threats by ISI agents for his reporting on links between the ISI and al-Qaeda. In October 2010, Shahzad sent an e-mail to Human Rights Watch outlining a recent meeting he had with the ISI and asking for the e-mail to be released if he or his family were harmed. Shahzad asked Human Rights watch to make details of the meeting public in case something happens to me or my family in future.''
On October 19th 2010 Shahzad sent an email informing the Human Rights Watch of the fact that he had been threatened by the ISI at a meeting on October 17th with the Director-General of the Media Wing of the ISI, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir and another ISI official, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz at the ISI headquarters in Islamabad.
The journalist Hameed Haroon has publicly confirmed the Human Rights Watch account of the chain of events regarding the meeting and the threats.
In the report the commission repeated the false information given to them by ISI that Syed Saleem Shahzad '' was invited to the office of the ISI where he meet Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir on 17.10.2010'' .
During its investigation the commission summoned Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir and Commodore Khalid Pervai, but they did not check the telephone records of the two noted ISI officials to find out more about the threats and their connection with the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad even though they were the prime suspect.
The ISI claimes that Saleem ''had falsely quoted an un-named senior intelligence officer, he proffered and insisted on personal meeting, rather than a chat on telephone. Therefore he was invited to the office of the ISI where he met Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir”. Normal procedure in cases where the ISI is incorrectly quoted would be to issue a public statement of denial. The ISI did not do this. Why did the ISI not ask for an official explanation in writing? What they chose to do was call him which is not standard official procedure. The ISI’s conduct seems fishy in this matter.
The commission did not look into the phone record of the officers that had allegedly threatened Saleem and the commission did not investigate their involvement in his murder case.
Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir has provided the commission with some of the email communication he held with Saleem. The commission did not question whether there was more communication between the ISI and Saleem besides the email communication. Seeing that the ISI is the prime suspect this is a clear example of neglect in the investigation. The commission has not investigated the threats issued fully.
Through connections with intelligence sources it has been confirmed that ISI have tampered with vital evidence which proves that the ISI was involved in the murder of Saleem. One of the most important pieces of evidence was CCTV footage by the National Highway Authority. According to sources in the intelligence agency this evidence was tampered with.
The national Highway Authority have CCTV systems installed at toll plazas in Mandra,Taraki and Jehlum. It follows that there should be CCTV footage of the Saleem’s car, because the car he was in passed through these toll plazas. Yet, the police have not been able to trace the movements of the car carrying Saleem. The commission has taken no further action on this even though they have placed a complaint with the police for this oversight.
Intelligence sources have confirmed that ISI used three different cars during the abduction of Saleem and had forced an Al Qaeda member to abduct Saleem. The Al Qaeda member had earlier on been detained by the ISI. Sources claim that Saleem knew the Al Qaeda member, because he was a source for Saleem in his work as a journalist.
Intelligence sources further claim that the ISI left the car in the area Jehlum canal and the police received instructions to handover the car to the family members as soon as possible. The ISI people deliberately left the car in this area after making sure that Saleem had been buried as a ‘lawaris’.
In the car used to abduct Saleem there was physical evidence, which was deliberately destroyed by experts of the ISI with the help of police officials. This proofs that the police worked alongside the ISI in destroying evidence. If the police had done their duty and also investigated properly the culprits would now have behind bars.
The neglect of police is confirmed by the findings of the commission. In the report they state that ''no forensic checkup of the car was done and especially the finger prints and other marks/contents were not scientifically procured, secured or retained”. The commission adds that ''This seems to be a serious lapse on the part of the police''. Despite proof of serious criminal neglect on behalf of the police, the Commission took no further action and did not investigate the reason why there was no forensic investigation. The commission also failed at checking whether there were other possible routes to the crime scene that the culprits might have used. The case of Saleem demonstrates that the criminal investigation mechanisms in Pakistan are dysfunctional and that the ISI controls the law enforcement agencies.
The ISI officials directed the police to bury the dead body of Saleem as soon as possible. According to intelligence sources the ISI was present when Saleem’s dead body was buried. Police complicity is confirmed by the commission’s report, which states that “Hamayun Shahzad is the supervisor, Edhi welfare centre,Mandi Bahauddin , who upon the request of the police provided services and also managed the burial of the dead body of Saleem as Amanat''.
The fast burial is highly unusual in Pakistan and even more so when considering the fact that the country was in high alert and everyone was looking for Saleem. When the police found the fresh body that had been dumped in the canal the first questions they should have asked themselves is: who is this person? Has he been reported missing? The coroner Dr. Ifthikar Hussain hashmi, who conducted the post-mortem, clearly stated that the “the body looked fresh and there were no wrinkles on it. It was not at putrefying stage”. The disappearance of Saleem had caught the attention of the public and the police was well aware of the fact that he had gone missing. Why then did the police identify Saleem as a ‘lawaris’ and why did they bury him quickly? This strongly indicates that the police was involved in destroying crucial evidence.
Killed for What?
A high profile source of intelligence explains that Saleem was abducted by the ISI, because he was in the possession of some important documents with information on the ISI’s involvement in a number of sensitive cases. Saleem had information on the whereabouts of a number of people that had attacked PNS Mehran and escaped afterwards. Saleem was also in possession of pictures of high profile ISI officials meeting with Al Qaeda leaders including Osama Bin Laden. He also had detailed information on the involvement of ISI officials in the killing of Benazir Bhutto. Intelligence sources confirm that the ISI officers responsible for the killing of Benazir Bhutto also took part in the abduction and killing of Saleem. The purpose of the abduction and murder of Saleem was to obtain this information. Saleem was tortured in order to obtain this information as well as the contact details of his source in the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), but Saleeem denied having anything to do with the R&AW.
Who Rules Pakistan?
The Pakistani government is supporting the heavy military industry of Pakistan. This has shifted the balance of power in Pakistan, so that the people no longer are in charge of the state of affairs. The corporate military are the de facto rulers. The case of Syed Saleem Shazad shows what happens when the corporate military upends the rule of law. People like Syed Saleem Shazad who have dedicated their life to questioning the actions of the corporate military are tortured and killed. How can we speak of democracy in Pakistan when innocent people are killed for speaking the truth and exposing the wrongdoings of the military? How can we speak of democracy when the guilty party is not held accountable and even lauded as a patriot for his heinous crimes?
Syed Saleem Shazad was murdered for telling the truth. We need to pose ourselves a question: how much of the truth does a media professional in Pakistan dare tell? Should they tell the whole truth? A partial truth? Or a lie?
We can be sure of one thing. As long as the ISI exists, the killers of Syed Saleem Shahzad, Hayatullah Khan, Benazir Bhutto and the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan will never be brought to justice and this mockery of justice will be allowed to go on.