Please be patient while you read this, I am still reeling. Still paralyzed by anger and numb by grief. Please be patient while I pick up the right words to protest the brutal killing of Saleem Shahzad, a father, a husband, a brother, a son — a journalist.

I am afraid that I might not find the right words. I doubt that no matter how many candles we burn, no matter how many protests we call, no matter how many times we shout and sloganeer it might never make a difference.

It’s like a ritual — frantic exchange of calls and texts, announcing the venue for a protest. It’s often the same people with similar placards, even the chants haven’t changed: “Zalimo jawab doh, khoon ka hisaab doh”.

Even the silence after is familiar. How do I defend the state we are in? What questions do I ask? In a state where the essence of honor, dignity and sovereignty have been distorted to justify the appearance of mutilated bodies dumped on roadsides; how do I even begin to mourn?

Saleem Shahzad was aware of the dangers of reporting facts; he knew his life was at stake. Yet he refused to cower in fear; he refused to mince his words. He did what he knew best; he reported facts.

814  words are being blamed for his death. I am not clear which one of those words could trigger such blinding anguish that his murderers had no other choice than torturing him to death.

In his last piece, Shahzad wrote about the involvement of people from inside the navy, facilitating the attack on PNS Mehran. Last year he was summoned for briefing, after he wrote reporting the release of Taliban commander by Pakistani forces, he left a note with the Human Rights Watch, expressing concern over the threatening calls he had been receiving from the intelligence agencies.

Right now senior analysts at various news channels are discussing the odds, “Are the intelligence agencies really involved in this murder?”, “There has been hearsay on their involvement in sending out threats and torture but they don’t just kill people!” “Was he really killed because of that piece he wrote? Could it be something else?”

It strikes me tremendously odd that the ISI’s involvement in torture and making threatening calls to journalists is spoken of with such casualty. It appears to be a norm — even if torture inevitably leads to death, aided by a hushed burial.

It’s a pity that these questions are being asked, knowingly that Shahzad’s torture that led to his death is not a unique case. Journalists like Wali Khan Babar, Zaman Ali and Hayat Ullah Khan have been killed in the line of duty.

Khan, who was an investigative journalist working in North Waziristan, abducted by ‘unknown assailants’ and found eight days later killed and dumped in a ditch near his house.

“Abducted four days after he had taken photos of the aftermath of what Pakistani officials had said was an accidental bomb-making explosion that killed Abu Hamza Rabia, an Egyptian believed to be a senior al Qaeda operative. Hayat Ullah’s photos, which showed clearly identifiable fragments of US Hellfire missiles in the rubble, directly contradicted the government’s story …here were five bullet holes in his head and his wrists were bound with government-issue handcuffs. The government promised investigations, two of which were delivered to Islamabad in late summer 2006. As of September 2006, neither report has been released.”

The statement issued by the ISI is reflective of the relationship between our intelligence agencies and the people. It begins with denying involvement, showing sympathy to the aggrieved family and ends with a much familiar tone; a defensive one.

“It is regrettable that some sections of the media have taken upon themselves to use the incident to target and malign the ISI.” If that is indeed a message for the aggrieved family, the three children who have lost their father, I am afraid it might not be understood fully. It might be slightly difficult to focus on sovereignty and honor while your father’s battered and exhumed corpse is brought back home.

When Salman Taseer’s body was riddled with bullets, we were told to be cautious, to practice self-censorship. When images of Shahbaz Bhatti’s blood splattered car popped up on our televisions screens, we were informed that we would be hunted down. Now that Saleem Shehzad’s tortured corpse has been discovered we are told to remain silent — I don’t know about you, but for me that’s not an option, never was.

“Koi aur toh nahin hai pas-e-khanjar aazmai, 
Hum hi qatal ho rahay hain, Hum hi qatal kerrahay hain”

“There is no one else holding the dagger,
We are the ones dying. We are the ones killing.”

9 thoughts on “Saleem Shahzad: Mourning the silence

  1. Can’t understand why everyone just mourns? is it just because as the others are doing? I would seriously request people of Pakistan to think more broadly and in light with ground realities. He was a journalist and his killing definitely is not justified. It’s cruelty and his murder is no doubt a shame for our country.

    Disregarding this for a moment, please don’t argue that being journalist he was on the right track and was revealing the truths. And if really everything needs to be revealed, then what’s a point for every country to establish and run a secret agency. There are some strategic actions which are undertaken by the agencies/secret organisation in public interest, and these journalists can never understand them and the risks involved.

    No journalist has right to reveal truths/facts of the agencies who are working to safeguard the country and it’s people, as this may result huge losses/damages to the country and people. Freedom of media and reporters is acceptable, but not beyond the point where it starts to prejudice the reputation of the country or its nation.

    Allah knows better.

  2. ‘Mera Qatil Hi Mera Munsif Hai , Kya Mere Haq Mein Faisla Dega’

    It’s sad and shameful, in fact a state of self-pity that journalists like Syed Saleem Shahzad, who come forward to reveal the truth are gruesomely killed and the mutilated body is found on the road side some ‘fine morning’. On top of it, the democratic vulnerability of people is poked, when the naked truth is arranged to be investigated by the culprits themselves.
    However, Truth that needs to be put under the lenses is underlined by chairman of Pakistan Newspaper Society, Mr. Hameed Haroon, who said that Saleem told him that he has been receiving perpetual life threats by an intelligence agency.
    Is this is what we proud of Pakistan for being a muslim country? where the truth, the best thing to Almighty is compressed for the sake of grubby political objectives. The pain is not just confined to Shahzad’s ghastly murder, but its a parallel state of distress both sides of the border, because Shahzad reported that ISI and Al-Qaida are brewing another conspiracy against India for which apart from the National official Nuclear programme they have got different unofficial nuclear arrangements to help terrorism. It’s melancholic that these white collar officials who have ruined the image of Pakistan in few decades are still dynamic in the process of their immoral ventures. It’s the need of an hour for Pakistani Mass to stand up and wipe out the filthy political structure who has been ruining the image of Pakistan, and the world is frowning at it.
    Though it should have been done a month back, at Osama’s death episode. It’s late but it’s never too late. This system has to crash. It’s essential, so that the Shahzad’s death should not be considered as an epitome of victory of corrupt, immoral and unislamic system over truth. Pakistan has to rise from this state of Islamic and social failure. Its national shame, its tyranny, its more than that. Its time for revolution, its time for Jihad, the real one.

  3. “I am afraid that I might not find the right words. I doubt that no matter how many candles we burn, no matter how many protests we call, no matter how many times we shout and sloganeer it might never make a difference.” How aptly put Sana. We need to do more. We have done all this before. We continue to loose our heroes, because we ‘think’ we don’t have the courage or power to fight. But we do. There is still time (eventhough it’s slipping away, taking with it, many lives). Eventually we will have to gather that courage anyway, when nothing will be left. Then why not now.
    May Allah give us the right amount of strength, and show us the right path to strive on.

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