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Certainly Not the First, Unlikely To Be The Last

Slain Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in a 2006 photo
Slain Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in a 2006 photo
Just a day before his abduction, Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was reportedly talking to a friend about his latest column on Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Navy. Shahzad noted that there had been no reaction in official circles to his article.

"No reaction means kidnapping," he told his acquaintance, according to a report by the Urdu Service of the BBC.

Journalists working on such reports in Pakistan fully understand the risks, and Shahzad was no different. But he failed to gauge the degree of the potential “reaction” -- in this case, murder.

No one can say with certainty who killed Shahzad, mainly because of the “wheel-within-a-wheel” structure of Pakistan’s “deep state,” but all signs point to the country’s intelligence apparatus which, as mentioned by the slain journalist to his family, were not happy with his reporting.

It is most likely that some “jaish”, “lashkar,” or “group of tigers” -- groups seemingly stronger than the mighty army and intelligence agencies -- will claim the devilish murder and the country’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik will order investigations in an effort to sweep the matter under the carpet.

Whoever bears responsibility, Shahzad is the 10th journalist killed in the past year in Pakistan, a country dubbed “the deadliest in the world for journalists” by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Though I’m not sure who abducted and killed Shahzad, his kidnapping and murder reminds me of a situation in Peshawar in 2009, while I was working for “The News International.” My colleague Dilawar Jan was picked by intelligence officers following the publication of his report, just a day before the launch of a large army operation in Bunir district in northern Pakistan.

Jan was asked to disclose the source of his report. He did not, and had to spend a cold night in the custody of the security forces.

He was lucky. The next morning, Jan was dropped off outside our offices after being interrogated, threatened, and moved -- blindfolded -- from one place to another all night in a bid to force him to reveal his source.

Less than a month before Shahzad's killing, a Peshawar-based journalist named Nasrullah Afridi was killed in a car bomb attack. Afridi had been threatened for months. The last warning he received on the phone was: “You'd better come to your senses.”

A few of the others who have been brutally murdered include Misri Khan (killed in Hangu); Janullah Hashemzada (Khyber Agency); Musa Khankhel (Swat); Ibrahim (Bajaur); and Hayatullah Khan (Waziristan).

The killers, who may be anyone among the warring sides, are at large and will remain so, cementing the impression that Syed Saleem Shahzad will not be the last to give his life for uncovering the truth in a land where everything is wrapped in confusion.

-- Daud Khattak