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Pak scribe's murder: 'Allegations against ISI are of general nature'

June 22, 2011 13:45 IST

An initial probe into the murder of Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad has concluded that allegations against the Inter-Services Intelligence on his abduction and killing are of a 'general nature' and based on a 'perceived sequence of events' that allegedly culminated in his death.

These observations were made in an interim report submitted by Punjab's provincial police chief Javed Iqbal to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case related to Shahzad's murder.

None of Shahzad's friends, colleagues or family members have provided any specific information that might pinpoint suspicion regarding an individual, said the report.

"So far the investigation has not yielded any lead that could help narrow down the scope of the investigation and bring into sharp relief any possible suspect(s)," the report said.

The report said the investigation has been greatly hindered by the non-availability of any of the electronic gadgets used by Shahzad, including his cell phone. Efforts to access Shahzad's email account have not met with any success, it said.

The analysis of the call data record of Shahzad's mobile number is an ongoing process and callers of telephone numbers provided so far have largely been identified, the report said.

The slain journalist was being monitored and the perpetrators knew his timings, route and routine, the report said. He was picked up from a secure area.

Shahzad went missing while driving from his home to a TV station in Islamabad on May 29, two days after he alleged in an article that Al Qaeda had infiltrated the Pakistan Navy.

His body was found the next day in a canal at Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab, about 200 km from Islamabad. Punjab police chief Iqbal said in the report that the investigation was underway and it would be finalized purely on merit and in accordance with the law.

The report mentions different types of evidence collected by police and statements given by the family and colleagues of the slain journalist.

The report stated that Mudassar Hamza Amir, who lodged the first information report about Shahzad going missing in Islamabad, had commented on his (Shahzad's) 'sterling character and professionalism".

Amir said many quarters would possibly have been irked with Shahzad who wrote about issues 'truthfully and bluntly'. Shahzad's reporting largely focused on the war on terror and Pakistani militant groups.

The report noted that there was a mention in a news report in the Dawn newspaper on June 1 of an email sent by Shahzad, in which he had named the ISI for harassing him.

Police chief Iqbal said he did not want to implicate anyone without any evidence and the investigation agencies might need to explore all possibilities.

Muhammad Faizan, an Islamabad-based senior reporter and a childhood friend of Shahzad, said the slain journalist had no animosity with anyone. "It was, however, possible that while filing his stories, he would have rubbed some people the wrong way by being truthful and forthright in his reporting, as was his wont," the report quoted Faizan as saying.

Faizan too referred to the news report published in the Dawn mentioning the email sent by Shahzad to some persons regarding his visit to the ISI's office and its ostensible connection with his murder.

"The murder had to do with how Saleem Shahzad conducted himself professionally with brutal honesty that annoyed people on all sides of the divide. Since the constituencies were multiple and the dynamics extremely complex, it was extremely difficult to pinpoint the perpetrators," the report quoted Faizaan as having said.

The reports stated that another journalist, Zafar Sheikh, who too wrote on terrorism along with Shahzad, said that the perpetrators could be from amongst friends and enemies though the probability of the former was greater.

When asked to qualify, he said that he didn't feel at ease going beyond what he had already said.

Shahzad was a journalist of international stature and wrote about all actors in the arena – the Taliban, the civilian government, the military and the west – equally emphatically and did not mince his words, the report said.

Sheikh said he had admonished Shahzad and asked him to refrain from crossing limits. Shahzad remained undeterred and 'continued to write in his inimitable style', Sheikh said.

Shiekh said Shahzad's report on the terror attack on the PNS Mehran naval airbase – in which Shahzad had alleged that the navy had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda – was 'dangerous' and insisted that 'whatever he had written was accurate'.

He said that suspicion of Shahzad's murder was being rested on a particular intelligence outfit but no conclusive proof for the same existed. It was possible that international actors could be involved who did it to entangle the intelligence agency, Sheikh claimed.

Sheikh, while discussing the email sent by Shahzad last year to Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch and AsiaTimes Online, stated that Shahzad discussed his meeting with the director general and deputy director general of the ISI's Information Management Wing with him though he came to know of the email only after the journalist's death.

Analyzing the potency of what is now being interpreted as a fateful threat, Sheikh said that it fell in the category of normal and was being re-interpreted owing to Shahzad's death.

A journalist, particularly one working on terrorism, is likely to be confronted with such situations not infrequently, the report quoted Sheikh as having said.

Yet another senior journalist, Asif Khan, said the intention of Shahzad's kidnappers was not to kill him. He died on account of an earlier bullet injury that had damaged his liver and rendered it fragile, Khan contended.

Therefore, the torture inflicted on Shahzad culminated in his unexpected death, the report quoted Khan as saying. The report further said that Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch and Hameed Haroon of the Dawn media group, who issued statements to the media that they had received the email sent by Shahzad after his visit to the ISI headquarters on Oct 17, 2010, were contacted telephonically and through emails by investigators.

They stated that they were out of Pakistan and would give statements soon.

M Zulqernain in Lahore
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