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Saleem Shahzad Murdered in Most Dangerous Place on Earth for Journalists

Munizae Jahangir: Shahzad was murdered after reporting on the discredited Pakistan military and ISI connections with al-Qaeda

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. On Tuesday in Pakistan, the journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was brutally murdered in Islamabad. Saleem was the bureau chief for Asia Times Online. He was also an often-contributor to The Real News Network. Now joining us from Pakistan talk about the murder of Saleem Shahzad is Munizae Jahangir. Munizae is a journalist and a host of a show on Express Media Group Television, which is the second-largest television network, English network, in Pakistan. Thanks for joining us, Munizae.

MUNIZAE JAHANGIR, PAKISTANI JOURNALIST: Thank you for having me.

JAY: So, first of all, what do we know about what happened?

JAHANGIR: Well, what we do know is that Saleem Shahzad was working on certain stories which were related to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda’s involvement with the army. Now, he had written several stories on al-Qaeda, one of them being on al-Qaeda number two Mullah Baradar, who was taken into custody in Karachi by the army. He wrote a story saying that Mullah Baradar was taken into custody by the Pakistan army so that he could be offered for negotiations with the Americans. After that, apparently, he was called in by the ISI, the intelligence agency of Pakistan, the secret intelligence, infamous agency in Pakistan, and he was questioned, after which he wrote a long email to Human Rights Watch saying that he is being threatened by the ISI. And he said that several times and confided several times to the HRW, Human Rights Watch, here in Pakistan, to the local representative here in Pakistan. And he said that if I disappear or something happens to me, please release an email. So he actually did send out an email saying that his life was under threat. Recently there was an attack on PNS Mehran early in May, the Navy attack on PNS Mehran and–in Karachi. He wrote a story saying that basically there were people within the Navy who were in some ways–I wouldn’t say collusion, but they were arrested by the Navy for having some links with al-Qaeda, after which al-Qaeda reacted and they launched an attack on PNS Mehran airbase. That was the first part of his story. The second part of his story was going to be published. Meanwhile, he was on his way to a local TV station when he went missing. His family went and lodged an FIR. They found his car close to Islamabad with his ID card and an ID card of another person. They found his body floating in the river yesterday. And there was this organization, nongovernmental organization, that actually found the body and buried it, because nobody came forward to claim it. So today, when his photograph started appearing on television, they realized that this was the man that people are looking for, Saleem Shahzad. And that’s when his family was brought to identify the body.

JAY: Now, there’s been some kind of report that the ISI had actually picked him up and that Human Rights Watch in Pakistan had received some information from them. What is that?

JAHANGIR: Yes, absolutely. When he was picked up, the Human Rights Watch received a call from his wife. And he had told his wife that if I go missing, the first person that you must call is the local representative of the Human Rights Watch here in Pakistan, called Ali Dayan Hassan, which his wife did. And that’s when Ali Dayan Hassan remembered that he had written him an email saying that in case I go missing or something happens to me, please release the email. And in that email he suggested that he had been called in by the ISI many times for questioning on the stories that he was writing. There were also suggestions that he had been picked up by the ISI. Now, Saleem Shahzad has also had a history. He was actually kidnapped by the Taliban back in 2006, and some reports suggested he was taken to Helmand. So he was somebody who knew the whereabouts of the Taliban, how the network worked inside out. We don’t know what happened after he was kidnapped. You know, this is all very murky. But he was a journalist who was working on these kind of stories.

JAY: Now, was he the only one doing this kind of reporting? Or were other people doing similar things?

JAHANGIR: Well, there were certainly a lot of suggestions. I, in fact, in my own show, raised the question of whether there was a split within the army, simply because chief of army staff General Kayani had already admitted to the Americans that they need to do some soul-searching, that they need some introspection, that they need to clean their own house, quote-unquote. And the Americans had suggested that it is a time–in fact, we heard from Admiral Michael Mullen just yesterday saying that we’ve had very frank discussions with the Pakistan army, that they realize that they will have to do some soul-searching, that they will have to do introspection, that they will have to clean out their own house. So these are statements that were coming suggesting that there was in fact a split in the army. It was very clear that there was an insider in the army who had actually squealed and had given the kind of information that had been given on the PNS Mehran airbase, because the attackers knew exactly where to go and they were very focused in their attack. We also saw the bin Laden attack. And, you know, if you go to Abbottabad, where bin Laden was found, it’s a garrison town. There are training centers, army training centers all around. And we had one of our former DG ISI, General Ziauddin, saying that at the time of Musharraf, there were several raids made in Abbottabad. In fact, in January, early January of this year, there was a senior al-Qaeda leader who was picked up from–Umar Patek, who was picked up from Abbottabad. And, in fact, he was trying to get a meeting with bin Laden. So they obviously knew that there was some kind of activity in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was eventually discovered and shot down. There were indications that there were people who were going there–that Abbottabad was a town where high-level al-Qaeda leaders would go [snip] baffling that the Pakistan army did not really find bin Laden. Several news reports suggest that in fact General Kayani said that I find it very strange also, it also came as a rude shock to me that bin Laden was found in Abbottabad.

JAY: Now, what Saleem had told us in the interview he did with The Real News just a few days before he was killed was that there was this serious splits developing in the Pakistan military, that after the killing of bin Laden, that the Americans had greatly increased their pressure on the Pakistan military to collaborate with the US, and that this was driving a wedge in the Pakistan military, people who were more sympathetic to the Taliban or al-Qaeda or Islamist ideology. Do you think that’s true? And what are the signs of that?

JAHANGIR: Well, there are certainly signs of it, because after bin Laden was shot down, the first thing that the chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, did, that he went on a kind of a tour into all the garrison towns that he has, meeting all his troops, as to say, and, you know, having frank discussions with him. And we saw one of the reports quoting him saying that, you know, the morale of the troops is down, that there is a lot of anti-American sentiment within the troops. And at the same time, there is a lot of public condemnation of the Pakistan army as such, because it is seen as a usurper of power and it’s seen as somebody that is a government-in-waiting that wouldn’t think twice before toppling democratic governments, which they have done in the past, which wouldn’t think twice before–they’re called sometimes–they’re called by hard critics plunderers of this country. So they have lost that kind of credibility as well. And then to have something like Osama bin Laden found in Abbottabad, this completely made them lose their credibility. And followed just within a month, there was an attack on PNS Navy airbase, which is one of the most sensitive installations. And just the day before, we heard General Kayani say that, you know, all our nuclear installations are safe. In fact, even before the bin Laden attack, he went to Kakul Academy in Abbottabad and said that we have broken the back of the Taliban. And then comes, emerges Osama bin Laden after Abbottabad. So the army faces, let’s say, a huge credibility issue. There’s a huge question mark on their credibility at this time. Their image has never taken the kind of beating that it has in the country. And there is a general resentment amongst people against the army, who they see as a self-serving army.

JAY: Tell me about the situation facing journalists in Pakistan. Saleem is certainly not the first journalist to be killed. What is the atmosphere for a working journalist? How is it for you? I mean, you’re speaking quite courageously right now.

JAHANGIR: Well, there are certain no-go areas in our country for journalists. Physically there are no-go areas. There is a whole strip where the war against militancy is being fought where journalists are not allowed to go. If they do go, they’re sent back, you know, dead. Body bags are found. So we have to tread our way very softly. And if you’re reporting on conflict areas, it becomes very frustrating not to be able to go there. So when we do go there, we are working on the fringes. We go in in the mornings, come back, you know, before the sun comes down.

JAY: Saleem was in Islamabad when he was killed.

JAHANGIR: Absolutely. Saleem was in Islamabad when he was killed. But I’m talking about there are threats from all sides. There’s not just threats from intelligence agencies. There’s also threats from the Taliban, there are threats from al-Qaeda, there are threats from criminal gangs, there are threats from–in Karachi, you know, from political parties who have criminal gangs. We are dealing with various forms of violence in Pakistan. We don’t know who is going to come at us, you know, whose feathers are we going to rub the wrong way. So it’s a very difficult situation for us. We have to be very careful in what–we have to weigh our words very carefully. We have to constantly look back. And ten of our colleagues have died last year, just last year. And according to international agencies, the media networks is perhaps one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work. But at the same time, this is also a place where you find the stories that you do. And so it gets that kind of media attention as well.

JAY: Now, is there going to be an inquiry? There’s already been calls for a public inquiry. Is there likely to be one? And if there is one, do you think that it’s likely to come to anything?

JAHANGIR: Well, just this evening, the prime minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gillani, strongly condemned the murder of Saleem Shahzad. And at that time, we had the advisor to the prime minister come on to my show and asked to her the same question: can we expect a clean and a transparent inquiry? But then I felt almost silly asking her that question, considering that their own leader, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in broad daylight, you know, and by all witness accounts and in front of live television camera, the evidence was washed down, hosed down. They are in government today. They make claims, they say that they know exactly who killed her, and yet they don’t have the strength, the guts to actually bring the perpetrators to justice. So what hope do I have of Saleem Shahzad killers being brought to justice? I don’t know. If they can’t bring the–you know, they owe everything to that woman. They came into power, you know, on the strength of Benazir Bhutto. But they still can’t find her killers. What hope do we have?

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Munizae.

JAHANGIR: Thank you so much.

JAY: Syed Saleem Shahzad left behind his wife and three small children. Everyone at The Real News and on behalf of all our viewers, we send our condolences to the family.

End of Transcript

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