This is a classic case of the dog that did bark, and ferociously so. The murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist, has been so brazen and open that it has shocked even Pakistan’s battle-hardened journalist community.
In several editorials, the killing has been described as a black day for journalists in that they are now caught between the terrorists and the intelligence agencies, notably the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) believed to be behind his death.
The fearless Shahzad knew he was on the ISI’s radar after he was warned by it for writing about how deeply al-Qaeda had infiltrated the Pakistan navy. He had also written in the past about the number of retired military officers who had become part of al-Qaeda’s network.
The fact that the killers did not bother to engage in any degree of stealth when they abducted, tortured and murdered Shahzad suggests that they are certain of either not getting caught or of getting away with it. The same lack of concern for the law was seen in the manner in which the late Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated in broad daylight by his bodyguard with other guards looking on.
Pakistan’s press has held out under all odds, the country was described as the most dangerous for journalists by Reporters without Borders. But it has tirelessly exposed the seamless manner in which Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, its army and terrorists have blended.
The killing is clearly a signal to other journalists that any exposes like Shahzad used to do will not be tolerated. It is also clear that those behind the killing felt that even though great opprobrium would attach to the intelligence agencies, it was worth silencing his voice.
Given the manner in which shadowy terrorists and army and intelligence officials are calling the shots, one cannot place much faith in Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s promise that the killers would be brought to book.
It is now clear that the space for an independent judiciary, at one time the pride of Pakistan, a fearless press and a robust civil society has shrunk. An all-pervasive culture of fear has silenced almost anyone who could stand up the usurping of the Pakistani State by extraconstitutional powers and non-State actors.
Many sections of the Pakistani press have urged their fellow journalists not to be cowed down by the sort of threats Shahzad faced. But in an atmosphere where threats are no longer veiled and killers are venerated, it will be difficult for many to stand firm.
This makes it all the more urgent for the international community, especially the US, to push Pakistan to rid itself of these sinister elements.
Or else the dog barking will have been in vain as it was this time around.