Syed Saleem Shahzad 27 May at 09:26 Report Dear Abbas Sab, Would you be kind enough to write a commentary on my book in your columns for Daily dawn? I have already requested Pluto Press to send you a copy. Thank you in advance
FRIDAY, the 27th, (he had inboxed me on Facebook) was the last I heard from Saleem Shahzad, the warm, humble and courteous journalist whom I'd rank as one of the most well-informed writers about Al Qaeda, Taliban and other militant groups active on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.His humility was such that it almost completely cloaked his knowledge. It was no different the last time we met. A couple of months ago at a two-day conference hosted by the Department of War Studies at London's King's College, he sat quietly listening to other speakers.
And when his turn came to speak, he held the audience spellbound. His intricate knowledge of Al Qaeda, his take on the split in Lashkar-e-Taiba with Ilyas Kashmiri and his group going one way and the rest another. Saleem was equally sure-footed on Jamaatud Dawa and the role the organisation plays (or does not) internationally.
He calmly fielded questions. It was apparent this soft-spoken man knew what he was talking about. Every single person in the room seemed to be taking notes feverishly.
When travelling through troubled parts of Afghanistan, often on foot, he almost always wore a loose shalwar-qameez and could easily be mistaken for a son of the soil.
But the man who approached me at the conclusion of the conference with a smile was looking exceedingly dapper in a dark blue suit, white shirt and tie. “Abbas Sahab, what have you been doing since your return?”
When I told him I was in the process of settling down, he quickly suggested that we set up a website, a portal, and pool in our (and other professionals') collective knowledge of Pakistan and the region's geopolitics.
In his disarmingly polite demeanour, he reminded me that on our previous three meetings we had discussed working together but somehow never got around to formalising an arrangement.
The conversation was just beginning to pick up when his phone rang and he rushed off to a meeting with his publisher. He promised to return to London soon and meet up to flesh out his proposal. I said I'll wait to hear from him.
When I first heard he'd gone missing through a tweet two days ago, I was filled with an untold fear. This wasn't a journalist who'd merely irritated the spooks or someone like that. This was a person who'd be seen as someone who knew too much. His investigative reports on the PNS Mehran attack are not the only example.
An excerpt from his book 'Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taleban â€“ beyond bin Laden and 9/11' tells us this about the Mumbai attacks: “With Ilyas Kashmiri's immense expertise on Indian operations, he stunned the Al-Qaeda leaders with the suggestion that expanding the war theatre was the only way to overcome the present impasse. He presented the suggestion of conducting such a massive operation in India as would bring India and Pakistan to war and with that all proposed operations against Al-Qaeda would be brought to a grinding halt. Al-Qaeda excitedly approved the attack-India proposal.
“Ilyas Kashmiri then handed over the plan to a very able former army major Haroon Ashik, who was also a former LeT commander who was still very close with the LeT chiefs Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi and Abu Hamza. Haroon knew about a plan by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that had been in the pipelines for several months with the official policy to drop it as it was to have been a low-profile routine proxy operation in India through LeT.
“The former army major, with the help of Ilyas Kashmiri's men in India, hijacked the ISI plan and turned it into the devastating attacks that shook Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and brought Pakistan and India to the brink of a war.”
A close friend of his tells me he called Saleem Shahzad on Sunday and had a long chat and told him to be careful. “I told Saleem I was sure his writings were ruffling many a feather. 'And these people are not benign. Who has ever held the agencies or their allies accountable for anything in our country? Yaar, khiyal rakhna (be careful)'.”
According to the friend, Saleem and he discussed the militant infiltration in the lower ranks of the Defence Forces. “He also expressed a fear that there would be a rise in violence as the security establishment is really shaky.” This was Sunday morning.
On Tuesday as the Twitter came alive with news of his car being found and then talk of a 'body' filled the airwaves and the cyberworld, I got an email from Jon Wheatley of Pluto Press, Saleem's publisher, asking me for my address so he could post me the book for a review.
Jon didn't know anything apart from 'Saleem was being held probably by the security services and was likely to be released'. Over the next hour or so we were to exchange anxious messages. Then I finally found out that Saleem's mortal remains had been found and informed Jon.
Rest in Peace, my courageous friend and colleague. I am filled with despair, deep, helpless despair. I wish potent anger was something I'd been endowed with so I could be equal to the cowardice of those who tortured and murdered you.