Shahzad murder probe drags on
By Malik Ayub Sumbal
ISLAMABAD - The judicial commission formed to investigative the killing of Syed
Saleem Shahzad, the Asia Times Online Pakistan bureau chief, has questioned
officers from Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
In their latest move on Tuesday, members of the commission spent five hours
questioning senior officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency
and the Intelligence Bureau in Lahore, at the rank of brigadiers and deputy
Pakistan journalists and civil society activists accuse the ISI, the country's
powerful spy agency, of murdering of Shahzad, whose badly beaten body was found
on May 31 in a canal in Mandi Bahauddin, about 150 kilometers southeast of
was two days after he went missing in the capital after publication of a story
that exposed a possible link between al-Qaeda and Pakistani servicemen. 
Asked if the answers submitted by the officers satisfied the commission, its
secretary Taimour Azmat told reporters, "The commission will examine their
written replies and form its opinion."
The five-member commission, headed by Supreme Court judge Justice Mian Saqib
Nisar, was formed in the last week of June. After failing to submit its
findings and recommendations within six weeks, it asked for an extension.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) president Pervaiz Shaukat, who
sits on the commission, said on Tuesday: "Senior journalists and the human
rights activists who were being summoned by the commission to record their
statements are in process."
The commission on Tuesday urged the ISI and Intelligence Bureau officers to
submit written answers to its questions within 10 days and adjourned further
hearings until September 5. The Intelligence Bureau is a civil intelligence
agency and although not as influential or powerful as the armed intelligence
agencies, it is generally regarded as a vehicle for the civil establishment and
politicians to protect their vested political interests.
Asked about the inquiry's failure to submit its report within six weeks, he
said that as a member of the commission, Shaukat was unable to comment.
In a rare rebuttal after Shahzad's body was found, the ISI described as
"baseless" media claims that it had targeted Shahzad for assassination. Still,
senior journalist Ejaz Haider in a newspaper column entitled "An open letter to
General Pasha",  referring to ISI head Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha,
accused the spy agency of carrying out the cold-blooded murder of Shahzad, who
was 40 years old and married with three children.
The commission has so far summoned 16 senior journalists and human rights
activists to give their suggestions on the murder of Shahzad, but so far has
not revealed a single clue to help the investigation proceed.
Matiullah Jan, a senior journalist from Dawn News TV who has appeared before
the inquiry, told Asia Times Online: "I am not very optimistic about the
findings and the working of the commission. In Pakistan it is not possible to
unveil the influential institutions and intelligence agencies that are behind
such kinds of incidents and where they keep on intimidating journalists for
their petty interests."
Matiullah said that "threats and dire consequences to those who try to unveil
the hand behind the killing of journalists in Pakistan" would hamstring the
commission and probes to find the murderers of Shahzad and other journalists
who died in the line of duty.
He recommended that members of the commission travel throughout the country and
talk to journalists in Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, since most of the
intimidation and violence towards journalists has been reported from the two
When there is still no outcome of investigations into the December 2007 death
of twice-elected prime minister Benazir Bhutto, then the murder of a simple
journalist could never be proven, Matiullah said.
The commission was formed in response to an unprecedented boycott of parliament
by journalists in mid-June amid demands for an independent investigation into
the death of Shahzad and justice for 76 journalists killed in Pakistan since
2001. The journalists objected to the government's initial decision not appoint
a Supreme Court judge.
In addition to Justice Nisar and Shaukat, the inquiry comprises Justice Agha
Rafiq Ahmed Khan, chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court, and two senior
police officials from Punjab and Islamabad.
The murder of Shahzad has been widely condemned by the United States of America
and the international community. The United States top military commander,
Admiral Mike Mullen, has alleged that the Pakistan government "sanctioned" the
killing of the veteran journalist.
The case meshes with evidence the US has gathered against the ISI, which
includes data taken from Osama bin Laden's dwelling in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in
May after the al-Qaeda leader was killed by US special forces.
Sources believe that the probe into Shahzad's death is a melodrama that has
been put in place just to placate the journalists and international
Malik Ayub Sumbal is a freelance investigative journalist based in
Islamabad, Pakistan. He has worked for more than eight years for a number of
national and international newspapers, magazines, journals, wire services and
television channels. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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