ISSN 2330-717X

Pakistan: No Country For Freedom – Analysis

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By Ambreen Agha

Pakistan’s media history bears the scars of extreme intolerance at the hands the country’s mullah-military combine and the state. Amidst the ongoing violence purportedly to avenge Osama bin Laden’s killing, the brutal murder of Asia Times Online Pakistan Bureau Chief, Syed Saleem Shahzad, on June 1, 2011, in the Mandi Bahauddin District of Punjab province, about 75 miles south of Islamabad, represents only the latest assault in the ‘war against freedom’ that has been ongoing since the moment of this Islamic Republic’s troubled birth.

Speculation is rife that Shahzad’s killing was the handiwork of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), and a credible narrative buttressing such a position has been established. Shahzad was abducted on May 29, after he exposed links between al Qaeda, a group of Naval personnel and the ISI in the attack at the Pakistan Naval Station (PNS) Mehran within Faisal Naval Airbase in Karachi. The terrorist strike on May 22 killed 10 Security Force (SF) personnel. Shahzad had also published a report in October 2010 about the arrest and subsequent release of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar. According to that report, Pakistani authorities, with the help of United States (US), had arrested Baradar in Karachi in February 2010, and then released him on October 16, 2010. Shahzad was later called and questioned by the ISI.

Hameed Haroon, President of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society has written, on June 4, 2011,
I wish to State on the record for the information of the officers involved in investigating journalist Saleem Shahzad’s gruesome murder that the late journalist confided to me and several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years… The last threat which I refer to was recorded by Mr Shahzad by email with me, tersely phrased as “for the record”, at precisely 4:11am on October 18, 2010, wherein he recounted the details of his meetings at the ISI headquarters in Islamabad between the director general-media wing (ISI), Rear-Admiral Adnan Nazir, with the deputy director general of the media wing, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, also being present.

Notably, soon after Baradar’s release, Shahzad sent an e-mail to the editor of Asia Times Online, Tony Allison, and to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher, Ali Dayan, expressing fears that he would be eliminated by the intelligence agency.

Shahzad’s recently published book, Inside al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, further exposed ISI-al Qaeda involvement in the November 26, 2008, Mumbai terrorist attacks (26/11). The book argued that the attack was scripted by ISI officers and approved for execution by al Qaeda ‘commanders’. Shahzad described the Mumbai plans as having been pushed through by Illyas Kashmiri, a key al Qaeda ally with wide links with the Pakistan defense establishment. [Kashmiri, one of the al Qaeda leaders tipped to succeed bin Laden, was killed in a US drone strike on June 3 at Wana Bazar in South Waziristan Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)]. Shahzad clearly ‘knew too much’.

Confirming the ISI’s role in Shahzad’s abduction, torture and murder, HRW cited a “reliable interlocutor” who claimed that Shahzad had been abducted by the ISI on May 29. Reports indicate that Shahzad’s family had contacted ISI officials after his ‘disappearance’, and had been assured that he would be released ‘shortly’. Instead, his body, with marks of torture, was recovered from a canal on June 1. Shahzad’s killing, Ali Dayan of HRW notes, “bears the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by the Pakistan Intelligence Agencies,” adding, “It is quite clear by his own account and from his reports that they [ISI] were deeply unhappy with his reporting.”

Unsurprisingly, accusing media of acting irresponsibly an unnamed ISI official stated that “some sections of the media have taken upon themselves to use the incident for targeting and maligning the ISI.” The ISI defence was backed by a statement from Interior Minister Rehman Malik that, “Saleem Shahzad’s murder could be a case of personal enmity”, though no evidence was provided in support of this claim, nor was any attempt made to explain the circumstances of Shahzad’s disappearance and death. Further, several journalists who reacted to Shahzad’s killing, have now disclosed that they were receiving ‘warnings’ from the Army and the ISI.

Shahzad’s disclosures regarding the arrest of a group of radicalized Naval personnel at the Mehran Naval Base find some confirmation in a WikiLeaks cable, dated March 2006, which quotes the then Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Operations, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Khalid Chaudhry as stating, “You can’t imagine what a hard time we have trying to get them to trim their beards,” hinting at the penetration of extremist clerics and militants into the country’s security establishment.

Shahzad’s murder is only the most recent instance of the sustained effort to throttle a surprisingly vigorous fourth estate in Pakistan. According to the International News Safety Institute (INSI), Pakistan is among the deadliest countries for journalists, with 16 deaths reported in the year 2010. The threat to journalists arises is particularly focused on investigations against the most influential groups in the country – the Army, the ISI and its extremist protégés. At least 73 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2000, and 439 have been arrested or abducted.

Attack on Media: 2000-2011

Years
Killed
Assault/ Injured
Arrested/ abducted
Intimidated

Banned /Barred / Censored

Damage to Property
2000
5
14
10
24
6
6
2001
2
2
5
3
4
2
2002
1
37
10
13
8
2
2003
2
7
4
17
2
1
2004
2
2
8
17
3
2
2005
3
7
13
18
28
3
2006
5
31
12
22
15
9
2007
11
215
325
79
43
16
2008
13
74
40
118
20
4
2009
10
70
10
28
35
10
2010
16
10
1
03
0
2
2011*
3
0
1
1
0
NA
Total
73
474
439
344
164
57
Source: 2000-2010: Intermedia
**Data till June 5, 2011: South Asia Terrorism Portal

The most prominent killings of the recent past include:

May 10, 2011: Nasrullah Khan Afridi, the President of Tribal Union of journalists, was killed when his car was blown up in Khyber Supermarket of the Cantonment area in Peshawar. Afridi had been receiving threatening calls from militants, suspected to be the cadres of Lashkar-e-Islam (LI). He had complained that local officials failed to provide security despite repeated requests.

January 13, 2011: A journalist, identified as Wali Khan Babar, was shot dead in Liaquatabad area of Karachi after reporting on violence in the city.

September 14, 2010: Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants shot dead a senior journalist, Misri Khan Orakzai, in front of the Hangu Press Club building in Hangu Bazaar, Hangu District, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

May 10, 2010: A local journalist, Ghulam Rasool Birhamani, was killed in Wahipandhi village of Sindh.

Addressing media organisation over the phone on August 2, 2010, in the North Waziristan Agency of the FATA, the then TTP spokesman Azam Tariq warned journalists that the “pro-America” media was spreading false information about the Taliban and told journalists to be ‘impartial’ in their profession. “The media should avoid creating rifts in the ranks of the Mujahedeen who are fighting a holy war,” he said. His threats extended to include the Government of Pakistan, who he accused of protecting NATO interests in the region. Tariq vowed, “The TTP would continue its resistance against such forces until the Pakistan Government parted ways with the US led NATO forces.” Earlier, on January 10, 2010, the National Crisis Management Cell of the Interior Ministry of Pakistan had disclosed that TTP had decided to attack newspaper offices and renowned journalists across the country.

The assault on freedom is not restricted to the media alone. Indeed, persistent negligence and, in at least some cases, probable complicity, on the part of state authorities has led to a situation where no intellectual or progressive voice can speak out without risk of extreme retaliation from one or the other of Pakistan’s violent constituencies. Thus, on January 4, 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was killed by his own radicalised bodyguard Malik Mumtaz Qadri for defending a Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been accused of blasphemy against the Prophet. On December 4, 2010, an extremist Deobandi mullah, Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, a senior member of the Jama’at-e-(Ghair) Islami (a movement with an anti-secular and anti-democracy agenda), known to have direct links with a local commander of the Pakistan Army, declared, at Peshawar, “If the Government does not hang Asia Bibi, then my mosque will offer a reward of PNR 500,000 to anyone who kills her… No President, no Parliament and no Government has any right to interfere in the commandants of Islam. Islamic punishment will be implemented at all costs.” No action was taken against Qureshi for his call to murder.

On March 2, 2011, Federal Minister for Minorities’ Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti was killed by militants of Fidayeen-e-Muhammad, a TTP faction, and al Qaeda Punjab Chapter, for his opposition to the country’s blasphemy laws Bhatti’s killing was also one among many incidents of minority persecution. It is through the infamous anti-blasphemy laws that hardline clerics persecute minorities, often by baseless accusations of having offended Islam.

The religious hardliners have also silenced another emerging voice against the blasphemy laws, in this case, through the state itself. Member of the National Assembly, Sherry Rehman, who had proposed an Amendment to the Law, was forced to withdraw her Bill by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, of which she is a member, in the wake of the Taseer killing. She now lives in self-imposed isolation at her home in Karachi, after receiving death threats from the religious extremists, who have openly named her in their rallies in Karachi. After Taseer and Bhatti, she is now the top target on the terrorist hit list. The Aram Bagh mosque in Karachi hung out a Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) banner that read “Death to those who conspire against the blasphemy laws.” Clerics constantly demand an immediate withdrawal of any anti-blasphemy law initiatives, and the Sherry Rehman case indicates that the Government is inclined to appease the extremists, emboldening them even further.

According to data collected by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), at least 964 persons have been charged under anti-blasphemy clauses between 1986 and August 2009. Moreover, at least 30 persons accused under these provisions have been killed extra-judicially by mobs or individuals. At least 64 people, including Aasia Bibi, were charged under the blasphemy law in 2010, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) 2010 report states. Three men, including two Christian brothers, accused of blasphemy, have been killed in Police custody. The law has extraordinarily perverse clauses that make the mere testimony of two Muslims, with no corroborative evidence, sufficient grounds for conviction – and a mandatory death sentence. In several case in the past, it has been found that complaints under the law have, in fact, been preceded by personal and property disputes, and that the law has been repeatedly and cynically abused.

The killing of two prominent liberals in Pakistan’s power structure, the suppression of others, and the enveloping context of intimidation and terror – both by state and not state agencies – has repeatedly exposed an easy partnership between Islamist extremists and their defenders within the political-military establishment. The killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, was a crucial case in point. Indeed, former President Pervez Musharraf was indicted on February 12, 2011, for his involvement in the Bhutto assassination. Bhutto had repeatedly demanded enhanced protection during her election campaign, especially after the October 18, 2007, assassination attempt by suicide bombing, in which at least 139 persons were killed. Investigators have concluded that Musharraf was directly responsible for the decision to provide insufficient protection to Bhutto, despite the constant threats and earlier attempt, as well as intelligence inputs suggesting extreme risk. Musharraf, of course, has denied responsibility, and continues to blame TTP for both the attacks. Government prosecutors, however, now allege that Musharraf was a part of the plot. The lead prosecutor, Zulfiqar Ali Chaudhry, has argued, “The probe has evidence that Musharraf was completely involved through Baitullah Mehsud, the killed TTP leader (sic).” On May 30, 2011, a Pakistan Anti-Terrorism Court declared Musharraf a ‘proclaimed offender’ or fugitive for failing to cooperate with investigators probing the case.

‘Disappearances’ and ‘target killings’ of dissidents have become routine in areas of conflict across the country – and most commentators have linked an overwhelming proportion of these to the Army and its secret agencies. Among numerous incidents, Professor Saba Dashtiyari, a senior faculty member of the University of Balochistan, was shot dead by ‘unidentified assailants’ on June 1, 2011. Initial reports on the ongoing investigations suggest that Dashtiyari was a Baloch nationalist and held views directly opposed to the Islamabad establishment and was deeply critical of the Army’s role in the Province, specifically criticizing the torture and disappearance of Baloch nationalists. Dashtiyari is only the most recent in a long chain of ‘mysterious’ deaths generally attributed to the ‘agencies’. According to the HRCP 2010 report, a total of 998 persons have gone missing in Balochistan, most of them allegedly abducted by Government agencies.

Among the ‘minorities’, the Ahmadiyas, have been particularly targeted for violent discrimination by state and majority extremist formations. The Ahmadiyas constitute 0.23 percent of the population and are treated as heretics in Pakistan and denied the right to refer to themselves as Muslims, or to propagate their beliefs, since 1974. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – perhaps Pakistan’s most celebrated ‘secular’ leader – declared the Ahmadis apostates by law. According to the HRCP 2010 report, 99 Ahmadis were killed in faith-based violence during the year. Impunity for perpetrators of violence against minority communities is assured, and no significant investigations or prosecutions ever ensue after such incidents. It is significant that Pakistan has seen a continuous decline in the population of non-Muslims in the country, which now stands at under 3 per cent.

A US report on April 8, 2011, noted that Pakistan had not held anyone accountable for a 2009 incident in which men in military uniforms shot dead six young men, who were lined up and blindfolded with hands behind their backs in Swat District. “A failure to credibly investigate allegations, impose disciplinary or accountability measures and consistently prosecute those responsible for abuses contributed to a culture of impunity,” the report said.

There have also been numberless instances of the Government shutting down private television channels or blocking certain media outlets from broadcasting, arresting, beating or intimidating – directly or through extremist and criminal proxies – journalists and members of their families, leading many to practice extreme self-censorship.

While Islamist extremism has secured unprecedented penetration into the establishment in Pakistan, including the Army and its agencies, over the past years, these trends are far from new, and go back to the very hour of the creation of Pakistan. On August 11, 1947, Liaqat Ali Khan and his associates tried to black out passages of Qaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly. On this cornerstone of distortion, successive regimes – civil and military – have built an edifice of repression that is now enforced by an intimate alliance of Islamist extremists, radicalized and opportunistic political parties, and the country’s dominant power, the Army and its agencies. Over these decades, the spaces for freedom in Pakistan have progressively diminished to a point where they can now be accessed only at risk of death.

Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

SATP

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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