Madhusree Mukerjee’s new book is a shocking indictment of one of the West’s great idols, Saad Sarfraz Sheikh finds
Madhusree Mukerjee’s new book is a shocking indictment of one of the West’s great idols, Saad Sarfraz Sheikh finds
“These journalists work under extremely dangerous circumstances”, says noted Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi. The Friday Times Editor-in-Chief said that journalists are both “part of the problem and solution,” walking a fine line between reporting the public’s sentiments on Pakistan’s ongoing turmoil and reinforcing them. Sadly, what is being revealed by human rights groups (here) is that it isn’t just the terrorists and their activities that make Pakistan dangerous for journalists. In addition to anti-state elements (militants), state elements top the list for “abducting, beating, detaining, disappearing, threatening, torturing and murdering journalists, who dare to question their intervention and authority”.
40- year- old Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online’s Pakistan bureau chief, is the latest victim of the dangerous quest for honesty and truth. According to news reports, he was “picked up” in broad daylight in Islamabad on 29th May, as he was on his way to a television interview.
Fears grew for his safety after he was missing for more than 2 days, and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) believed him to be in the custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The HRW declared that Syed Saleem Shahzad could also be subjected to mistreatment and torture during “custody”. As ill-fate would have had it, police found his body in Mandi Bahauddin on Tuesday, May 31, about 150 kilometres southeast of Islamabad, days after he published an article that could have upset the powerful people at the centre of Pakistan’s war on terror.
“This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in South Asia. He has called for a “transparent investigation and court proceedings”.
The following quote from Shahzad’s final article gives an idea of just how embarrassing his latest revelations might have been to several powerful parties.
In a follow-up to this despatch, Shahzad had planned to explain the recruitment and training of militants. Sadly, that never happened.
As we dig into the archives of Shahzad’s bold reportage, an experience that brought him dangerously close to the dark world of Al Qaeda, Taliban and extremists’ links to Pakistani politics and security – where he often took great personal risks to deliver his unique insights, we realize the immense research and information Saleem Shehzad possessed. An expert on the Al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISI, Pakistan Army, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Islam and Lashkar-e-Taiba, his prolific journey as a reporter is as deeply rooted as the problems he focussed on.
Saleem found his true calling while reporting on the symbiosis of the ISI and Taliban factions on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Recently, he focused on militant loyalists within the armed forces of Pakistan, mentioning their human resource operations and changes. His reportage has brought ISI’s former strategic asset Ilyas Kashmiri into focus, as he is now seen as the operational in-charge responsible for establishing Al-Qaeda-Taliban “terror cells”.
Saleem Shehzad may not have been targeted by the ISI, but he was surely being monitored as a potential threat by all the stakeholders. Fellow journalists reacted angrily to his death, which is not merely the murder of a journalist; but the murder of truth itself.
People are now directly accusing the ISI on television and social media forums. “Any journalist here (Pakistan) who doesn’t believe that it’s our intelligence agencies?” tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author.
The sad thing is that Saleem isn’t the first, nor will he be the last Pakistani journalist to face such dangers to life. Last September, Umar Cheema, an investigative reporter for The News International , was kidnapped, blindfolded, stripped naked, had his head and eyebrows shaved, beaten up, filmed in humiliating positions and dumped on the side of the road six hours later.
“If you can’t avoid rape”, one of his interrogators jeered during the ordeal, “enjoy it”. The perpetrators were never found, but when asked about his suspicions, Cheema told the New York Times: ‘I have suspicions and every journalist has suspicions that all fingers point to the ISI’.
Cheema is more concerned than ever for his own safety. ‘Obviously I feel really vulnerable’ he says. ‘We need an independent commission to look into [Shahzad’s death]’.
One of the primary reasons as to why people majorly suspect the ISI is that the kind of operation in which Syed Saleem Shahzad lost his life, doesn’t seem to be the work of militant groups known for spot killings or abductions that end up in Waziristan, but of the intelligence agencies.
Shahzad was known to have sources both within the Pakistan’s intelligence community and among Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. Last October, the journalist had been called for a meeting at the ISI headquarters after he had written an article that claimed the Pakistani authorities had released from custody Afghan Taliban military commander Mullah Baradar to negotiate with the Pakistan army.
Shahzad said the mood at the meeting, at which he was asked for but declined to reveal the sources for his article, was polite but that at the end one of the senior officers had said to him: “I must give you a favour. We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, dairies and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know.”
Ali Dayan Hasan of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the journalist had taken these words as a threat. “He told me he was being followed and that he was getting threatening telephone calls and that he was under intelligence surveillance,” Hasan told Reuters. “We can’t say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI and [we have] every reason to believe that that threat was credible.”
One of the ISI’s media wing officials who attended the meeting and questioned Shahzad was Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, a naval officer.
On Monday, May 30, Pakistani intelligence officials told journalists that they had picked up Kamran Ahmed Malik, a former navy commando, in Lahore on May 27, Friday. Malik and his brother have been detained in connection with the investigation. While Malik has not been formally charged, it is widely reported that he is being held for questioning about his links to both the terrorists and former colleagues inside the navy.
When contacted on Thursday June 2 night, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir declined to comment on the raid or the death of Shahzad, saying “I don’t speak to anyone.”
Amid chants of ‘Yay jo deshatgardi hay, iskay peechay wardi hay (Militancy is backed by the military) ringing around the Lahore Press Club, Pakistani journalists find themselves in a concatenation of cross fires. There is a new fear, and the government is in no mood to protect the journalists. The only official reaction is Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s suggestion that journalists should be allowed to carry small firearms for their self-defence.
As public outrage intensifies, the ISI, in a rare clarification, has felt that it needs to make its voice heard. On June 2, a senior ISI official told the government news agency, Associated Press, that allegations of the agency’s involvement were absurd. He said allegations that its operatives were behind the abduction and killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad were baseless, and vowed to help bring the perpetrators to justice. He denied that the agency had made any threats to the journalist and described Saleem Shahzad’s death as “unfortunate and tragic” and a “source of concern for the entire nation.” The intelligence official was unnamed in accordance with the nature of his job.
The ISI, which has been accused of multiple human rights abuses against journalists and political activists in Pakistan, said it was regrettable that some sections of the media had levelled such allegations against the agency. It called on them to act responsibly and suggested that it may consider taking legal action against them.
The official said that a meeting between ISI officials and Shahzad in October was part of the media wing’s mandate to keep in touch with members of the media and that it represented nothing sinister.
The only problem with this version of events is Shahzad’s last written testament to Human Rights Watch in Pakistan some months ago in which he communicated his fear that the ISI, rather than some unknown forces, had warned him off for wading into troubled waters and might exact punishment. Additionally, his wife has confirmed that a senior ISI officer was in touch with her husband and had even “interrogated” him some time ago.
Hopes for any inquiry, however, are low. Although the ISI technically reports to Prime Minister Gilani, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani. Although accused of numerous human rights abuses over the years, serving ISI officials have never been prosecuted.
Waseem Shahzad, Saleem’s younger brother, says ‘Nobody can say my brother backed down because of threats or bribes. He paid the ultimate sacrifice’.
Saleem Shahzad is survived by his wife, Anita, and three children. His widow wants no autopsy nor any charges filed against anyone.
Published via Syndicate Features in the South Asian Tribune
Shams-i Tabriz was undoubtedly an extraordinary person. He had studied Quran and jurisprudence with his father and uncle, both accomplished jurists, very early in life. He was sent to Tabriz to seek further knowledge, where he studied various sciences with Abubakar Sanjasi Tabrizi, a reknown mystic teacher of Najmuddin Kubra order.
He was asked to go to a master teacher, Kamal Jundi, when he demonstrated his interest in learning the esoteric and the metaphysical. He accomplished himself as a master, as he had an innate and inborn gift for the metaphysical. He was cautioned that he would stay away from the odinary and the mundane and that one day he will meet someone who will act as his mouthpiece and speak to the world on his behalf. That eternal voice was essentially Mevlana Jallaluddin Rumi, one of Sufism’s greatest poets, who still has the amazing ability to touch the soul and heart, even after 800 years.
Shah Shams was however told that he had to wait until his future student was ready to receive from him the promised gift. He was also advised by his master to stay away from the sufis as well as the faqihs (religious scholars) which he did.
Shams-e-Parinda, as he was known, was always traveling from one place to another. He would show up at times at the seminaries and madrasas without revealing his credentials.
Nasir Shamsi writes,
He disliked the mystics because they had given up the Shari’a (practice). He detested faqihs (scholars) because they indulged in useless polemics and diatribes. He avoided staying at the seminaries and khankahs. Instead he stayed at the Traders inns, showing himself as a traveling salesman. He ate very little. An occasional meal (bread and soup) would be enough for days. He virtually starved his body, as if saying no to his self. In return, he received the uncanny gift of knowing the other person’s mind, predicting the events, even transferring himself from one place to another (ta’y ardh ). He was capable of doing things that seemed extra-ordinary, uncanny or supernatural to an undiscerning eye. He kept it however from the ordinary people. Rumi saw it when Shams threw his hand-written manuscripts in the water, then taking them out, dry and intact, with no sign of water on the pages. This was no magic or illusion; this was a God-given gift.
In the Holy Quran, Allah says ” Kun Fa ya Koon “.(We say, Be and it is). It is said that He lends His power or phenomenon of immediate Being to his chosen people, such as Prophets or Saints. Some people are born with these gifts, in varying degrees ( they may not even be aware of their hidden potential) while others can get there through personal struggle to get close to God ( taqarrub or salook). It is the human journey from fana to baqa. You give up your ‘ self ‘ to be one with the Ultimate.
Shams-I Tabriz was born with the gift and he perfected it through suffering himself. He recognized it early on in his childhod, according to his own admission in the Maqalat ( an authentic record of his conversation with Rumi, recoded in Sultan Walid’s (Rumi’s son) hand. He did not lose any time to perfect the gift of the esoteric in him. Finally, as predicted by his teacher Kamal Jundi, the flowering of Sham’s gift took place and manifested itself in his counterpart, Jalaluddin Rumi.
Shams was able to transfer, his knowledge and wisdom onto Rumi in a rather mysterious manner. Rumi has repeatedly said in his Masnavi and Divan that it was not him but Shams talking through him. That is why he did not use his name in any of the verses out of more than 50,000 verses that he left behind. Rumi ends most of his poems with the name of Shams of Tabriz. Such a phenomenon of the transfer of souls has never been witnessed before. It happens again in the annals of history, when 400 years later, Punjabi Mystic Poet Baba Bulleh Shah and his master Inayat Shah encounter each other in a spiritual match, which has no victor, nor any loser.
(Stay posted for more on Bulleh Shah and Inayat Shah)
I leave you with a ghazal (Ode) 331, translated by Coleman Barks, “Say I Am You” Maypop, 1994
I’m the Light Within His Light
I circled awhile with each of the intelligences,
the nine fathers that control the levels of spirit-growth.
I revolved for years with the stars through each astrological sign.
I disappeared into the kingdom of nearness.
I saw what I have seen,
receiving nourishment as a child lives in the womb.
Personalities are born once,
a mystic many times.
Wearing the body-robe,
I’ve been busy in the market,
weighing and arguing prices.
Sometimes I have torn the robe off
with my own hands and thrown it away.
I’ve spent long nights in monasteries,
and I have slept with those who claim to believe nothing
on the porches of pagodas,
just traveling through.
When someone feels jealous,
I am inside the hurt and the need to possess.
When anyone is sick,
I feel feverish and dizzy.
I am cloud and rain being released,
and then the meadow as it soaks it in.
I wash the rains of mortality from the cloth around a dervish.
I am the rose of eternity,
not made of water or fire or the wandering wind,
or even earth.
I pay with those.
I am not Shams of Tabriz,
but a light within his light.
If you see me, be careful.
Tell no one what you’ve seen
Hazrat Jallaluddin Rumi
Oh Lahore, what would you be without your old side?! A bunch of McDonald’s, Pizza Huts and KFC’s? The many Askari’s and DHA’s littered across the city? The true spirit surely lies in Old Lahore…
I fly into the ancient dust that surrounds the old city. My wings recognise the change in the air. I fly.
Burnt bricks, symmetrical walls, wrinkled men and lots of litter. Welcome to Old Lahore. A forgotten past, a faded story, visible ignorance. The walls are smeared with hate and the buildings look down at me. It’s just like any other day.
Along the colourful Vespa scooters that line up the wall of the walled city. Paras watches the alphabets fly off his type-writer. He is the forgotten few, the ignored illiterate, the unlucky uncouth, the poor peasant, the mistreated man.
Minutes later, Ashfaq rides into the narrow alley on his tonga. Does anyone need a ride?, he asks. In unison, they all thank him and happily point towards the assortment of motorcycles and cars parked across the road. Jobless!, he laughs to himself. Its back to transporting metal rods for him and his horse.
Susheela hasn’t had much luck either. She ties an ugly hair bun as she lurks along the road to the forbidden area. With summers, business hasn’t been good. Greased musicians tease her as she saunters down the alley, clapping furiously.
The Sitara Steel Band is one of the 300 bands that play at weddings. Band Master Ilyas hopes he that he will be able to fit his entire ensemble onto a noisy CNG rickshaw that seems to be overcharging. His wife says he is constantly out of tune and has been after him to sell his brass instruments as scrap rates. The journey for glory has brought nothing but disrespect.
Shakoor is worried. Everyday he needs 45 rupees to buy the cancer sticks he calls soota. He confidently explains that the soota eliminates his hunger for food and is more pleasing. All he worries is about where the next 45 rupees will come from. He says he is a malang, as he doesn’t ask for much, and doesn’t do much either.
Deewaron ke bhi kaan hotey hein?
The buildings are embarrassed and speak of unspoken tales. They open their doors in confusion and flap their windows in desperation. That is all that Old Lahore speaks of today, and not the yesterday that at once seemed to be brighter than the tomorrow we do not look forward to…