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Mourning the silence

June 02, 2011

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Please be patient while you read this, I am still reeling. Still paralyzed by anger and numb by grief. Please be patient while I pick up the right words to protest the brutal killing of Saleem Shahzad, a father, a husband, a brother, a son — a journalist.

I am afraid that I might not find the right words. I doubt that no matter how many candles we burn, no matter how many protests we call, no matter how many times we shout and sloganeer it might never make a difference.

It’s like a ritual — frantic exchange of calls and texts, announcing the venue for a protest. It’s often the same people with similar placards, even the chants haven’t changed: “Zalimo jawab doh, khoon ka hisaab doh”.

Even the silence after is familiar. How do I defend the state we are in? What questions do I ask? In a state where the essence of honor, dignity and sovereignty have been distorted to justify the appearance of mutilated bodies dumped on roadsides; how do I even begin to mourn? 

Saleem Shahzad was aware of the dangers of reporting facts; he knew his life was at stake. Yet he refused to cower in fear; he refused to mince his words. He did what he knew best; he reported facts.

1013 words are being blamed for his death. I am not clear which one of those words could trigger such blinding anguish that his murderers had no other choice than torturing him to death.

In his last piece, Shahzad wrote about the involvement of people from inside the navy, facilitating the attack on PNS Mehran. For this he was summoned for briefing, he left a note with the Human Rights Watch, expressing concern over the threatening calls he had been receiving from the intelligence agencies.

Right now senior analysts at various news channels are discussing the odds, “Are the intelligence agencies really involved in this murder?”, “There has been hearsay on their involvement in sending out threats and torture but they don’t just kill people!” “Was he really killed because of that piece he wrote? Could it be something else?”   It strikes me tremendously odd that the ISI’s involvement in torture and making threatening calls to journalists is spoken of with such casualty. It appears to be a norm — even if torture inevitably leads to death, aided by a hushed burial.

It’s a pity that these questions are being asked, knowingly that Shahzad’s torture that led to his death is not a unique case. Journalists like Wali Khan Babar, Zaman Ali and Hayat Ullah Khan have been killed in the line of duty.

Khan, who was an investigative journalist working in North Waziristan, abducted by ‘unknown assailants’ and found eight days later killed and dumped in a ditch near his house.

“Abducted four days after he had taken photos of the aftermath of what Pakistani officials had said was an accidental bomb-making explosion that killed Abu Hamza Rabia, an Egyptian believed to be a senior al Qaeda operative. Hayat Ullah’s photos, which showed clearly identifiable fragments of US Hellfire missiles in the rubble, directly contradicted the government’s story …here were five bullet holes in his head and his wrists were bound with government-issue handcuffs. The government promised investigations, two of which were delivered to Islamabad in late summer 2006. As of September 2006, neither report has been released.”

The statement issued by the ISI is reflective of the relationship between our intelligence agencies and the people. It begins with denying involvement, showing sympathy to the aggrieved family and ends with a much familiar tone; a defensive one.

“It is regrettable that some sections of the media have taken upon themselves to use the incident to target and malign the ISI.” If that is indeed a message for the aggrieved family, the three children who have lost their father, I am afraid it might not be understood fully. It might be slightly difficult to focus on sovereignty and honor while your father’s battered and exhumed corpse is brought back home.

When Salman Taseer’s body was riddled with bullets, we were told to be cautious, to practice self-censorship. When images of Shahbaz Bhatti’s blood splattered car popped up on our televisions screens, we were informed that we would be hunted down. Now that Saleem Shehzad’s tortured corpse has been discovered we are told to remain silent — I don’t know about you, but for me that’s not an option, never was.

“Koi aur toh nahin hai pas-e-khanjar aazmai, Hum hi qatal ho rahay hain, Hum hi qatal kerrahay hain”

“There is no one else holding the dagger, We are the ones dying. We are the ones killing.”

Sana Saleem is Co-founder, Director Gawaahi.com and blogs at Global Voices,  Asian Correspondent, The Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.

 

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn