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Ten Years On, Saleem Shahzad’s Murder Remains A Mystery

Saleem-Shahzad

It’s been ten years since Saleem Shahzad, one of Pakistan’s most daring reporters, was found dead some 80 miles from Islamabad. Saleem’s body was found mutilated near River Jhelum, his ribs had broken on May 31, 2011. It was clear that he had been beaten to death. Who killed him and how it all happened is still a mystery but one thing is clear: Saleem had fallen out with too many people with too much power.

Saleem was no ordinary reporter. Connected in the highest circles of the terrorist networks as well as the intelligence agencies of the region, Saleem Shahzad was one of the most well-informed journalists on the subject of terrorism. Being a Jamiat follower during his student life, Saleem had relations with the members of al-Qaeda and other such groups from a very early stage of his life. While most journalists wait throughout their lives for a scoop, Saleem Shahzad had had too many within only the last few months of his life. But this probably was also the reason of his death. With no one really guiding him about the limits he was allowed to go, Saleem finally ended up dead just a few miles from the capital of the country.

In 2010, the then Interior Minister of Pakistan Senator Rehman Malik had claimed that the top Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Ilyas Kashmiri had been killed in a drone strike. It was Saleem Shahzad who went to Waziristan and interviewed Kashmiri to break the news to the world that Kashmiri was not only alive but was just a few miles from Afghanistan. The US authorities certainly felt the heat after this report as they knew Ilyas Kashmiri’s skills as an organiser and how he could streamline the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Kashmiri was, therefore, actually killed in a drone strike few weeks later.

Earlier, in 2006, Saleem Shahzad had reported that Osama was on the move. Shockingly, when Osama was killed in a raid by American seals in Abbottabad some 5 years later, it was revealed that Osama had come to live in Abbottabad in 2006.

Again on March 25, 2011, Saleem reported for Asia Times, the magazine run from Bangkok for which he worked, that Bin Laden was again on the move and the American intelligence had been receiving continuous reports about his movements. He added that the officials were stunned at the frequency of the reports of Osama’s movements. Strikingly, the news again turned out to be true when just about a month later, Osama bin Laden was killed by US seals on May 2, 2011.

But the story that may have got him killed came just weeks after Osama’s death. On the 22nd of the same month, PNS Mehran Airbase was attacked in Karachi. Saleem Shahzad reported for Asia Times that there was some Islamist infiltration in Pakistan Navy and that the information for the attack was provided to the terrorists from within the department. He went on to claim that the terrorists wanted some of their people released by Pakistan army and had carried out the attack upon failure to convince them.

The story was broken by Saleem on 27th of May and he had claimed towards the end of the report that the second part, which was going to be published the next week, would reveal even more shocking details of the attack. However, before that part could be published, Saleem Shahzad was found dead near Mandi Bahauddin.

Ten years on, we still don’t know who killed him. We still have no clues about what exactly was the reason behind his murder. Was it his reporting that got him killed? Could it be some personal issue? Was it an intelligence agency, local or international? Were the terrorists behind the murder? We know nothing. The investigation, like most of the investigations in this country, never came to a conclusion. The dream of a free press and a secure environment for journalism continues to elude Pakistani journalists.

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