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Shame all around – by Kamran Shafi

Photo Credit: Dawn

First published in Dawn
At exactly 23:12 i.e. 12 minutes past 11pm last Thursday night, my mobile telephone rang. My old friends of ‘Private Number Calling’ infamy were at the other end.
“Aap aaj XYZ embassy gaye they — wahaan kiya hua?” the voice said.

When I asked who was speaking, the voice mumbled a name, something between ‘Maqbool’ and ‘Mahboob’. When I asked where it was speaking from, the voice mumbled “IB”.

I said that I had indeed gone to the embassy concerned along with three other journalists to meet a visiting dignitary, and that if anybody wanted to find out what had happened there he should come visit me, identify himself and we could then have a chat. The nameless, numberless voice rang off, and hasn’t called since.

Shame on you gentlemen! Is this the way to behave with a citizen, not rich and powerful but a citizen nonetheless and a senior one at that? A person who writes a weekly article in a major newspaper and who never says what he does not write (and vice versa), in the cold light of day; who appears regularly on television talk shows and whose views are known to all?

Is this the way to question someone of my age, calling him in the dead of night, on his personal telephone (why don’t they use the landline, these spooks?), and ask him silly and impertinent questions? Much shame on you, sirs.

There was very recently a report in one of the newspapers that the superior judiciary is now taking more suo motu notice of matters than it ever did before. Well here is a fit case for immediate action by Their Lordships. The Supreme Court, which is exercising muscle and sinew rather a lot these days on every matter under the sun, should immediately ban the use of ‘Private Number’ telephones. Calls made from such numbers can be intimidating, and can be used for nefarious activities to boot.

The agency concerned should understand too that hiding its identity shows great cowardice: announce out loud who you are if what you do is in the service of the country! Whilst I doubt very much the voice was from the IB, shame on you whoever you are, and on the coven to which you belong.

Which immediately takes me to the ludicrous letter the foreign minister has written to the United Nations secretary general on some aspects of the Benazir Bhutto murder report. So absurd is it that it seems Shah Mehmood Qureshi has merely put his signatures on an already typed letter, ‘put up’ for the needful, no questions. Bizarrely, the letter was written a full two months after the report was submitted to the government and placed before the world to read and try to decipher.

The main thrust of the letter is to deflect attention from the ‘establishment’ and therefore lessen the opprobrium directed at it. Laughably, the letter goes to the extent of saying that no evidence has been provided; no material mentioned; no document referred to; and no affidavits provided to the effect that the establishment was “involved in or bears some responsibility” for Benazir’s assassination.

So who bears “some responsibility” if not the establishment? Who was in complete command at the time of Benazir Bhutto’s cold-blooded shooting to death if not the establishment’s own commander-in-chief, the Commando himself, when his government failed to provide her the security her status demanded, and specially when over 120 people had already been killed in an earlier attack on her?

Does Shah Mehmood not recall what Musharraf had said to Benazir after her return to the country when he saw that she was increasingly standing up to him? Words to the effect: “You are as safe as your closeness to me”? Does Shah Mehmood not know that she completely ignored this threat? So who “bears some responsibility” for Benazir’s killing? Everybody and Charlie’s aunt? Not the establishment?

Astoundingly, the letter goes on to say: “The report fails to identify the material, documents and special interviews on which it relies to come to the conclusions regarding the role of ISI.” Where, pray, has Shah Mehmood lived his adult life? In Timbuktu? Pakistan’s foreign ministers, who belongs to the PPP, a party which has been on the wrong side of the establishment ever since its inception, does not know the extent of the influence ISI exercises on Pakistani’s lives; a power that the ISI has arrogated to itself?

Shah Mehmood Qureshi does not know that the dark doings of the ISI range from setting up political parties; bringing no-confidence moves against sitting, elected governments; breaking political parties, even disappearing people.

I have posed the question before, I shall pose it again. Does no one in the establishment do any thinking at all before bombarding the public with more jewels? What other “material, documents and special interviews” should the commission have relied upon to come to conclusions regarding the role of ISI in the various happenings in Pakistan than the conventional wisdom of the lay people of Pakistan who have witnessed firsthand the shenanigans of this behemoth for decades now?

Did Shah Mehmood not pause before signing the letter and consider for a moment that the leader of the commission was a Chilean? Surely our foreign minister should have known of Chile’s suffering at the hands of its army and intelligence agencies, and therefore come to the conclusion that a Chilean would well understand every facet of an out-of-control security establishment’s behaviour.

The UN secretary general has quite rightly dismissed the objections raised in this silly and self-defeating letter which has served to highlight rather than paper over the suspicious activities of the establishment. Consider these words: “In any case, observations and comments on the history of ISI, its purpose, its past and present role and area of work are extraneous to the purpose of the mandate of the commission.” Shows there is much to hide, what? I ask you!

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Laila Ebadi


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  • Pakistani Journalist Kamran Shafi Threatened, Shot At

    In more evidence of the growing threat to free media in Pakistan, veteran journalist Kamran Shafi’s house was strafed with gunfire over the weekend.

    The shooting comes after repeated threats to Mr. Shafi’s life by telephone and warnings to him not to continue writing about security in Pakistan.

    Police report that they have made no headway in identifying the shooters or those threatening Mr. Shafi. The woman caller, according to Mr. Shafi, spoke in broken Urdu.

    Most troubling about this attack is that, when the shooter let loose a hail of bullets on Mr. Shafi’s home, he was celebrating Eid holiday with his wife and daughter who could have been killed in the attack. This demonstrates that not only are these killers intending to silence free and open media discussion in Pakistan, they are willing to commit the most devious of murders to get their way.

    In addition to the obvious threats to the journalist and freedom of the media in Pakistan, this incident has not gone unnoticed in the international media and serves as an embarrassment for Pakistan.

    The Committee to Protect Journalists, which has already condemned Pakistani newspaper The Nation for endangering the life of an American journalist, wrote that this is evidence of Pakistan’s media environment deteriorating:

    “CPJ condemns this attack on such a prominent Pakistani journalist,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Pakistan’s media environment is declining rapidly as a consequence of the political and military strife erupting under the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Local and foreign journalists are coming under threat from all sides to the country’s many conflicts. Increasingly, Pakistan’s free press is under a threat almost as menacing as that under former president Pervez Musharraf ,” added Dietz.

    I have written before about how threatening journalists threatens press freedom. Then, I was writing about Ahmed Quraishi’s dismissal of concerns about the safety of American journalist Matthew Rosenberg. But as the attempted murder of Kamran Shafi clearly proves, it is not just American journalists whose lives are increasingly in danger.

    A free and unbiased media is the cornerstone to a healthy and stable democracy. By threatening journalists, the people involved in this incident have proven themselves to be enemies of our democracy. By using violence to try to intimidate and threaten innocent people, they have proven themselves to be nothing but terrorists.

  • In it, up to our necks By Kamran Shafi Tuesday, 01 Dec, 2009 (Dawn)

    So then, December is upon us, another year has gone by in the Fatherland’s struggle to keep its head above water, to be accepted as another half-civilised country in the comity of nations.

    The very same terrorists who were running amok during the Commando’s time in the sun while he and his collaborators ran with the hares and hunted with the dogs, are somewhat under control due to the political will of the major political parties of the country which has forced the security establishment to become pro-active.

    I say ‘somewhat’ because almost all of the Swat/Fata Yahoo leadership is either not yet apprehended or killed, the chief murderers Fazlullah and Mehsud either escaping into Afghanistan, Fazlullah purportedly on one leg, the other melting into the countryside. The ones apprehended, such as Muslim Khan the Terrible are being kept under wraps, i.e., have appeared in no court of law. He is charged, may we remind ourselves, with cold-hearted murder, rebellion against the state, robbery and dacoity, and petty theft.

    More, much more has happened to us hapless and lay Pakistanis, and to our country in the year gone by. And the jewel in that is the wilful near-revolt by our Rommels and Guderians when they thoughtlessly and recklessly came out publicly in a press release by the ISPR against the aid bill that the American Congress voted into law to give mainly civilian aid to help upgrade the education, health and other infrastructure sectors. It came with a military component too under certain conditions, mainly that the secretary of state will certify to Congress periodically that the Pakistan Army is firmly under the control of the civilian, elected please note, authority. Our Rommels and Guderians were said to be ‘furious’ at the wording of the bill.

    Yet, barely nine days after their ‘fury’ had been vented on us ‘bloody civilians’, the commander US Centcom came a-calling, in which meeting the COAS Pakistan Army, conveniently forgetting the ‘fury’ he and his fellow generals felt at the wording of the aid bill, by now called the KLL for it had become US law, asked for early shipment of ‘sophisticated weapons’ for the fight against terror!

    And what has yours truly been writing about during the past year? About hypocrisy and two-facedness. About the foibles of our politicians, specially of the PPP breaking its solemn promises made with the PML-N; the completely foolish and self-defeating coup against the elected, constitutional government of Punjab by Salmaan Taseer, erstwhile friend and campaigner for people’s rights, foolishness soon put right by the newly independent judiciary.

    I noted, however, that whilst politicians can be put in their places by the electoral process itself which is always the preferred method, the superior judiciary is also there to correct the course where it is seen that a certain action is unconstitutional. Such as Salmaan’s coup. But what, pray, does one do with a rampant security establishment that deems it below its dignity to submit to the popular will i.e. the will of the people, as exercised through their chosen, elected representatives, ‘bloody civilians’ though they be? I have written about all of the above.

    And also about why that Holy of Holies, the Mother of All Agencies, should be considered the exclusive preserve of the Pakistan Army when every other intelligence agency of note across the world is headed by civilians? I must add here that I received at least three emails containing the vilest abuse after I asked why a civilian could not head the ISI, a few weeks ago.

    A little anecdote here: during CIA director Leon Panetta’s (Panetta was President Clinton’s chief of staff and is a ‘bloody civilian’) recent visit to the citadel of Islam, a vehicle in his motorcade from Benazir Bhutto airport to the ISI HQ overturned due to over-speeding and the penchant of Pakistani ‘security car’ drivers to stay as close to the VIP’s car come what may, was said in the press release to belong to a ‘sensitive agency’. I ask you! As if we ‘bloody civilians’ thought the overturned vehicle belonged to that dead-as-a-dodo ministry of tourism.

    On the night of Nov 27-28, 2009, my house in Wah, where my wife and daughter and I had come to celebrate Eidul Azha, was fired upon six times by a high velocity firearm, probably a Kalashnikov (on single shot mode) judging from the half-inch deep and two-inch across holes in the concrete wall of the bedroom above ours, possibly a Takharov 30 MM pistol, popularly known as ‘TT Pistol’ in the Land of the Pure.

    There was no sound of a motor vehicle driving away, suggesting professional hit-men who had probably parked their vehicle a way away towards the main GT Road and then calmly walked to it after doing their deed.

    There were no empties found at the site giving further credence to the above theory — the assailants had taken care to catch the bullet casings before they fell to the ground, for you do not start looking for empties in the dead of night for fear of getting caught in the act. One of the ways that we used in the army during firing practice in my day was to hold a beret over the ejection port. We had to account for every round fired which I am sure is the case even now.

    There is more: at exactly 17:33 on Nov 28, 2009, I received a telephone call from a woman speaking in uneducated Urdu and using a mobile phone (0300-274-9185). She asked if I was Kamran Shafi. When I said I was, she said that what had happened to me last night was just the ‘trailer’ and that the complete movie would also be shown.

    When I asked why any of this should happen, she said, ‘One does not spit in the plate one eats from’, and that if I was not careful about what I write I would soon see the complete movie. I am a pensioner of the Pakistan Army, getting the princely sum of Rs1,200 a month, by the way. FIR No 827 has been registered at the Wah Cantonment PS in which I have in an additional application said that I suspect an ‘agency’ of doing the deed.

    I must end by saluting Mian Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari for telephoning me inside of 15 and 17 minutes of my sending messages to their staff respectively, about what had happened. And the Punjab government for providing me and my family the best security it can. This is exactly why I stand on the side of elected leaders and against any further interference in our country’s politics by the men on donkey-back.

  • Pakistani Journalist Critical of the Military Is Threatened By SABRINA TAVERNISE Published: November 30, 2009

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A gunman strafed the house of a liberal columnist over the weekend and an anonymous caller threatened to kill him, warnings the journalist said he believed had come from the fringes of Pakistan’s security establishment.
    The columnist, Kamran Shafi, 63, said a gunman shot six bullets into his house outside Islamabad on Friday while he and his family were sleeping. No one was hurt. The next day, he received a call from a woman who said what had happened “was a trailer,” and warned he would see the “whole movie if you don’t behave.”

    The woman added: “You don’t spit into the plate you eat from.”

    Mr. Shafi, a former major in the Pakistani Army, has written extensively against the military’s involvement in politics, a delicate topic in a country where the military has immense power over the affairs of state. He said he believed that those who ordered the threat were from inside the powerful security establishment, possibly from the military’s intelligence arm, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

    A spokesman for ISI said Monday: “Our organization does not do these kind of things.”

    Pakistan has had three coups in its 62-year history, and Pakistanis like Mr. Shafi argue that the army’s involvement in politics thwarts democratic growth.

    “This seems like a warning not to write about the security establishment,” he said by telephone on Monday. He said a car tried to run him off the road earlier this year, an episode that he interpreted as a first warning.

    The news media in Pakistan are free and outspoken, but few journalists openly challenge the military. Mr. Shafi’s weekly columns, in the daily newspaper Dawn, were an exception. A recent column questioning why ISI was not run by a civilian drew a barrage of angry e-mail messages, he said.

    A version of this article appeared in print on December 1, 2009, on page A10 of the New York edition.

  • Dawn correspondent Azaz Syed’s residence attacked Friday, 07 May, 2010

    ISLAMABAD: Unidentified gunmen attacked the house of Dawn correspondent Azaz Syed in Islamabad on Friday. Fortunately, Azaz and his family members remained safe.

    Police spotted five bullet holes on the main entrance gate of Azaz’s residence and also recovered empty pistol bullet shells from the scene.

    This is the second attack on Azaz Syed’s house, the previous one being in January this year when unidentified persons threw bricks at his house and broke his car’s windscreen.

    The latest attack on his house occurred around 2 am Friday when Azaz’s family members heard gunfire outside their residence after which they called the police.

    Azaz Syed has been working on several important stories, most of which throw light on the role of the armed forces, the intelligence agencies and even militant organisations besides some political parties and influential personalities in Pakistan. — DawnNews

  • Moderators,

    Where is Azaz Syed [Dawn Correspondent]’s report on the attack on his house???? Threat [your search option is not working properly]

  • Another related statement this time as a letter to the editor to Dawn by Farahnaz Ispahani:

    The front page article in Dawn (July 11) titled ‘Implications of UN report worry government’ misses out the context of the UN investigation of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

    The demand for a UN investigation was made after resolutions in the four provincial assemblies, national assembly and the senate and only after this expression of the will of the people did the government ask the UN to investigate the assassination. Although elected assemblies were in place, the era of dictatorship had not ended and General Pervez Musharraf still exercised control over government as President.

    The elected government and the Pakistan People’s Party still feel that the dictatorial government at the time was responsible for not providing security to Benazir Bhutto.

    In the spirit of reconciliation as espoused by Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have focused on honouring our leader by fighting the militant mindset that led to her murder instead of pointing fingers at individuals and institutions.

    The UN investigation worked completely independently of the government of Pakistan and indeed did not interview several key players that the PPP coalition government felt were key to unveiling the truth.

    The commission exceeded its specific responsibility, and the references in the report to ‘the establishment’ and many key institutions of Pakistan, linking them with terrorism, were unfortunate and incorrect.

    We had hoped that the U.N. commission’s report would pave the way for a proper police investigation and possible penal proceedings. Instead it has been widely construed as a characterisation of the region’s political history that misses out nuance and context.

    Media Advisor to PPP Co-Chairperson

  • This event clearly indicates that Pakistan is a dangerous country for journalists and they are always threatened by one force or the other. Yet despite all hardships, I guess media has done a splendid job.