A Pakistani Writer Murdered, And Plenty Of Questions

Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep reports from Pakistan on the death of another prominent Pakistani journalist. Saleem Shazhad, who had been critical of the government, had been tortured. Inskeep also talks to Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi about attitudes in Pakistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne with Mary Louise Kelly in Washington.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Islamabad.

A reporter was murdered here in Pakistan this week. Saleem Shahzad turned up in a waterway, many hours after he vanished from Islamabad. His death is drawing wide attention because he wrote about Pakistan's powerful security agencies. At his home last night, his fellow reporters were asking if he was killed for what he wrote.

(Soundbite of chatter)

INSKEEP: It's late in the evening. We're on what would normally be a quiet residential street here in Islamabad. There's a row of two-story houses. And on the second floor of this house, Saleem Shahzad lived with his wife and three children. On this evening there are chairs set out in the driveway. People are sitting or standing and mourning Saleem Shahzad, as police officers now come and go.

His relatives include Hamza Amir, his brother-in-law.

Mr. HAMZA AMIR (Journalist): See, I'm a journalist myself. And when I started off - when I freshly came to Islamabad, I was actually scratch. I did not know journalism at all. He was the one who taught me. He was a very strong personality, for sure.

INSKEEP: As a journalist, Hamza Amir speaks carefully of his brother-in-law's death, saying only what he knows. Shahzad was last seen at this house where we're standing.

Mr. AMIR: He went missing on Sunday late evening. He left the house at 5:30 p.m., and the next day when we found out, by his cell phone tracking, that he went missing at 5:42.

INSKEEP: Shahzad took a risk by writing about terrorism cases. Militants can become vindictive if they don't like the coverage - and so can government security agencies.

Mr. AMIR: He was questioned by agencies. He was questioned by other officials as well at times on what he writes, but never was there any threat.

INSKEEP: Never any threat, but the group Human Rights Watch says that after one such questioning, in 2010, Shahzad left a written account of the meeting in case anything happened to him.

Shahzad's final story touched on a major embarrassment to the military here. Last week, militants attacked a naval base. Saleem Shahzad wrote a detailed story suggesting al-Qaida infiltrated the navy itself.

When Shahzad disappeared, Human Rights Watch alleged that the military intelligence agency, the ISI, had picked him up. Authorities said they had no information. Then yesterday Shahzad's brother-in-law, Hamza Amir, received a phone call from the police in a distant city.

Mr. AMIR: They told me that they found a car about 200 kilometers from here and they also told me that they also found a body.

INSKEEP: By the time Hamza Amir arrived, police had already buried Saleem Shahzad.

Mr. AMIR; But they had taken pictures. He had wounds on his forehead, red marks, swollen, but it seemed very clear that he was tortured before probably he died.

INSKEEP: Because of the marks you saw on his face?

Mr. AMIR: Yeah, yeah.

INSKEEP: His brother-in-law says he fears this killing will cause reporters to think twice about what they write. It's the latest of many deaths among reporters in Pakistan. Just after we spoke with Hamza Amir, Pakistan's top law enforcement official pulled up in a white SUV. Guarded by scores of police, Interior Minister Rehman Malek stepped before a bank of TV cameras.

Mr. REHMAN MALEK (Interior Minister, Pakistan): (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: Today, he announced, I've given instructions that all journalists should carry weapons. Reporters began demanding to know why he wasn't investigating the ISI for the killing. In English and in Urdu, the official promised to act if anyone brought him evidence.

Mr. MALEK: I promise you I will take action right in front of you.

INSKEEP: So we do not know who killed Saleem Shahzad or why. We do know that the killing comes at a time of great tension for Pakistan. We've been talking about it all week here on MORNING EDITION.

Ever since the killing of Osama bin Laden weeks ago, there's been an increase in violence in this country and an increase in anxiety as well. The next voice we're going to hear is one of Pakistan's leading newspaper editors and television personalities - Najam Sethi, editor of the Friday Times of Lahore. And when we sat down together, we talked about Pakistan's increasing tensions.

Mr. NAJAM SETHI (Editor, Friday Times): The sense of insecurity and anguish and anxiety is pervasive. Ordinary people are moving below the poverty line. There's economic hardship. And on top of that, there's this acute feeling of despair, as though all of Pakistan is now surrounded by hostile nations. And on top of that we are not getting along with the sole superpower in the world.

So all that is leading to conspiracy theories, paranoia, and is leading to further insecurity.

INSKEEP: Has there been some real soul-searching as far as you can tell inside the military?

Mr. SETHI: Inside the military there is introspection, to what extent we should stand up to the United States. What are the costs and benefits of friendship versus opposition to U.S. interests in this region? And therefore there are rumblings from discontented junior officers or middle ranking officers who actually want the military to take a harder line against the United States and against anyone who tries to encroach on your so-called assets.

INSKEEP: I want to mention that there have been a number of military coups in Pakistan in the past, but they've always been led by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The armed forces have stayed in line below their commander. Is it unusual to be hearing word of unrest in the lower ranks pushing up against their commanders like this?

Mr. SETHI: Absolutely. This is quite unprecedented as well. Unlike other armies, this army, the army chief is not just (unintelligible) Ashfaq Parvez(ph). He's not just first amongst equals. He is the be-all and end-all, and everybody just follows the chief. And - but now you have this grumbling, you have this grumbling in quarters which can be very dangerous if this is allowed to go too far. So I think the army chief now has to look over his shoulder to see what his rank-and-file is saying. So this is a very tricky situation.

INSKEEP: Is there a specific demand that the rank-and-file have, or are they just unhappy?

Mr. SETHI: They're just unhappy. They're unhappy about the quality of civilian leadership. They're unhappy about the U.S./Pakistan relationship. They're unhappy about this war. They're not sure whether this is their war or America's war. And they're not happy about their own military leadership that has somehow created a situation in which the army, as an institution, has lost respect in the eyes of the people.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about civilian leaders. There's an elected president, Zardari. There's a prime minister, the head of parliament, Gilani. In theory, they're in charge of the military. Do they know what they want in this situation?

Mr. SETHI: I think the president knew what he wanted, but - when he became president. But shortly thereafter, he made some political mistakes relating to the military.

INSKEEP: He tried to assert power over the military.

Mr. SETHI: He tried to assert power over the military, but he didn't do it the right way and he chose the wrong issues. And therefore, the military hit back. But the interesting thing is that instead of retaining - moving a notch back, he's actually surrendered to the military. So now the military's calling all the foreign policy shots.

INSKEEP: Could President Zardari conceivably, after the bin Laden embarrassment, have called General Kayani, the top general in the army, into his office and said, I want your resignation, you're fired?

Mr. SETHI: Well, you know, the thing is - that's easier said than done. Certainly, he makes every public attempt to show that he's solidly behind the military and will defend them.

INSKEEP: Najam Sethi, thanks very much.

Mr. SETHI: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Najam Sethi is the editor of The Friday Times in Lahore. He's one of many voices we're hearing this week as we explore Pakistan in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death.

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