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    South Asia
     Aug 19, 2011

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 inspector-generals.

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 Islamabad. That

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. [1]

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", [2] 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 provinces.

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 governments.

1. Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike. Asia Times Online, May 27, 2011.
2. An open letter to General Pasha, The Express Tribune, June 7, 2011.

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 ayubsumbal@gmail.com

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