The newly appointed Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may have attained an understated and unsung victory for his intelligence agency considering the recent and highly surprising statement by Human Rights Watch’s Pakistan head Ali Dayan Hasan that the ISI may not be involved in the Saleem Shahzad murder after all!
Mr Hasan made this statement at the recently concluded India-Pakistan Social Media Mela held at a local hotel in Karachi. He was invited as a speaker for the session titled ‘Negotiating complexity: human rights and social media.’ Apart from his condemnation of ‘trolls’ (read his notoriously egotistical irritation on being questioned by critics in general and Twitter activist @Laibaah1 Marri in particular) on social media, Mr Hasan said “My position and HRW position is clear. We never say that he was killed by the ISI. Who killed him has to be determined by an independent probe.” Could we be correct in considering this latest statement by Mr Hasan a recanting of the previous allegations that HRW has made, all but implicating the ISI in carrying out the Saleem Shahzad murder?
Saleem Shahzad was a freelance “investigative journalist” who was murdered in 2011 after being kidnapped in Islamabad where he had been invited to participate in a talk show on Dunya News regarding his Asia Times Online story about the May 22 terrorist attacks on Pakistan Navy’s Mehran Base in Karachi.
“Shahzad, the missing journalist, is believed to have been abducted by intelligence agents from the well-heeled F-6/2 area of Islamabad around 5:45 p.m. He was on his way to the studios of Pakistan’s Dunya News channel to discuss the contents of his latest report about the naval-base attack. He had driven there from his house in central Islamabad’s leafy F-8/4 neighborhood, some 4 km away. At a quarter to 6, Shahzad had responded to a call from a producer at Dunya News and said he was on his way, says Nasim Zehra, director of current affairs at the channel. No one has heard from him since.”
In that ‘Asia Times Online’ piece, Shahzad had alleged that the attack was Al Qaeda’s response to the purge in naval ranks of soldiers who had links with the terror outfit and followed a breakdown of talks between AQ and the Navy regarding the release of the arrested men.
The threat in question was a rather strange verbal warning given to Shahzad in October 2010 at a meeting in the ISI HQ in Rawalpindi, the garrison city that’s also home to the Pakistan Army’s General Head Quarters. In emails sent to Mr Hasan and CEO Dawn Media Group Hameed Haroon, , Shahzad detailed how a Rear Admiral of the Pakistan Navy told him about a hit list recovered from a terrorist that may also have Shahzad’s name on it. When Shahzad’s body was recovered two days after his disappearance on 31 May 2011, both Mr Hasan and Mr Haroon made this email and the ISI threat public and demanded an investigation into his murder and the prosecution of the individuals involved. In response to those allegations, the government of Pakistan constituted a ‘judicial commission’ headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate these allegations.
PUBLIC STATEMENTS AFTER SALEEM SHAHZAD’S MURDER
To be honest, Mr Ali Dayan Hasan has never directly accused the ISI of being complicit in this murder, which is to say that there never was an unequivocal statement saying that “The ISI killed Saleem Shahzad.” Yet if one were to peruse his opinions and pronouncements on this case, a very clear and apparent allegation surfaces that the notorious intelligence agency was in fact the perpetrator of this crime.
DAWN newspaper May 31, 2011 ““The other day he visited our office and informed us that ISI had threatened him. He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and threats,” Hasan told AFP. “We can form an opinion after the investigation and a court verdict, but… in the past the ISI has been involved in similar incidents.””
TIME.com May 31, 2011 “Given that Shahzad alleged in his lifetime that he had been threatened by the ISI, and given that we believe that the allegation was credible, the onus is on the ISI to prove…that its personnel were not responsible for his death.”
”We were informed through reliable interlocutors that he was detained by the ISI,” says Hasan. Those interlocutors, he adds, had received direct confirmation from the agency that it was detaining Shahzad. In any case, Hasan says, “in a high-security zone like Islamabad, it is only the ISI that can effect the disappearance of man and his car without a trace.“”
“But when the ISI picks up journalists in this manner, they are often subjected to mistreatment and torture.”
Human Rights Watch official statement, June 3, 2011 “The ISI has a long history of abducting critics and others, then engaging in threats and beatings, telling relatives or others that they should not worry or complain as their loved one would soon be released, and then releasing the person with the threat of further abuse if he or she made the abductions and mistreatment known. Pakistani and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have extensively documented the ISI’s intimidation, torture, disappearances, and killings of those who earn its ire, including journalists.”
TESTIMONY TO THE COMMISSION
In Ali Dayan Hasan’s testimony to the Saleem Shahzad Commission itself, he again restated his understanding of the ISI’s complicity in this murder.
“I am the Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch and have worked for the organization since 2003. I am responsible for writing reports, briefing papers, and news releases on Pakistan. All the views I express are in my professional capacity as the Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch.”
“I made inquiries and credible sources claimed that Shahzad was in intelligence agency custody and was expected to be released in the evening of 30 May.”
“Given the threats from the ISI alleged by Shahzad and a long pattern of similar cases involving the ISI, there is a strong basis to suspect the ISI’s involvement in his abduction and death.”
“Human Rights Watch would also request the commission to ascertain the names, whereabouts, and telephone records of the personnel of the Islamabad detachment of the ISI from the day Saleem Shahzad went missing to the point his body was discovered.”
AN INDEPENDENT PROBE
In his most recent statement at the IPSMM2012, Mr Hasan did qualify his clarification with this line, “Who killed him has to be determined by an independent probe.”
Mr Hasan very well knows that a probe did take place! It was, as stated above, a judicial commission constituted in response to allegations that Mr Hasan made about the ISI’s involvement, some of which have been meticulously recounted above. The fact is that the so-called Saleem Shahzad Commission’s findings were as vague as saying “A group of men killed Saleem Shahzad.” Not surprising, the Pakistan Army was the only vociferous defender of the findings at the time and to date. The Pakistani media ridiculed the findings in detail, the prominent Pakistani blog ‘Let Us Build Pakistan’ rejected it and Mr Dayan through an official HRW statement criticised the “failure of the judicial inquiry commission to identify those responsible.”
The statement continued to insist on its long held belief that the ISI was guilty of Saleem Shahzad’s murder.
“The commission appeared fearful of confronting the ISI over Shahzad’s death. Shahzad had made it clear to Human Rights Watch that should he be killed, the ISI should be considered the principal suspect. He had not indicated he was afraid of being killed by militant groups or anybody else.”
“At great personal risk, scores of journalists, human rights activists, and others presented themselves before the commission to offer accounts of ISI and military involvement in human rights abuses. The commission repaid this courage by muddying the waters and suggesting that just about anyone could have killed Shahzad.”
In a subsequent interview to DAWN.com Mr Ali Dayan Hasan reiterated his disappointment with the SS Commission’s finding without denying the credibility of their investigative effort. “This is not to suggest that the commission may not have tried but the indisputable fact is that it failed.” This was also the first instance, apparently, of his ‘We never accused the ISI’ stance of which he gave a rather strange interpretation.
“We have maintained two positions with reference to Saleem Shahzad’s murder. One, he was being repeatedly threatened by the ISI and we believe that prior to his murder he was in the custody of the ISI and the location, manner and method of his abduction bore the hallmark of similar incidents where the ISI were the accused. Second, the overwhelming circumstantial evidence around his abduction meant that the ISI was the principal suspect.”
And yet, Mr Hasan maintains that he never said the ISI did it?! If this case did not involve the brutal death of a human being, Mr Hasan’s explanation could be considered highly humourous!
From what I (and I am sure the reader) can infer from these statements and interviews, Mr Ali Dayan Hasan was pretty confident of ISI’s guilt in the matter. In fact, not a doubt in one’s mind is left as to the culpability of the intelligence agency. So what changed during the past year that he has performed a volte face and disavowed all of the above? That question might as well remain a rhetorical one for Mr Hasan has a reputation of blocking off impertinent questions, not answering them.
Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family of late Saleem Shahzad. Not only did they lose a loved one in a brutal manner, they suffered this equally brutal betrayal from a man they probably considered his friend. If they had any hope of finding those responsible for the death of Mr Shahzad through Mr Ali Dayan Hasan, they should probably give it up by now.