Thursday, June 2, 2011

Syed Saleem Shahzad. A Lookback.

Even though I disagreed with the guy, I bloody did not want him dead. Where does Al Qaeda end & the Pak Mil begin? RIP Syed Saleem Shahzad.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

This is what I wrote when I heard of Saleem Shahzad`s murder. We knew thanks to twitter that Mr Shahzad had been disappeared, but like many people we expected something like the Umar Cheema incident, where a reporter gets picked up, roughed up and released. Instead, we are confronted with the potential murder of Mr Saleem Shahzad at the hands of the intelligence services.

I may be saying potential, but that is what the news reports say. The opinion, rippling up and down the twittersphere, is that despite reporting on the intersection of Islamic militants and Pakistan's intelligence agencies, it is the latter part of the equation that has firmly done in Mr Syed Saleem Shahzad. Mr Shahzad's last piece, the first of a promised two parter, on the infiltration and presence of Al Qaeda cells in the Pakistan Navy, is likely what sealed Mr Shahzad's fate.

Mr Saleem Shahzad's name was likely one I had come across, as a hyperlinks would casually direct one to the Asia Times website over the last decade. And why wouldn't they? Before this current generation of journalists and bloggers, with their synthesis view of the War on Terror, growing up with it (seeing as we were just merely teens when 9/11 happened) Asia Times had a staff with multiple alternate ideologies running, right through the time of the Asian financial crises of 1997, when the print version of the newspaper folded and "Asia Times Online" took shape.

Mr Shahzad, along with Pepe Escobar, covered Pakistan from their own perspective for the early part of the last decade, whilst other voices also began rising to the surface.

However, as this new Pakistan focused journalism rose up, Mr Shahzad continued on the stories that were most attractive to eyeballs outside Pakistan, namely, the rise of Islamic extremists and their links within the Pakistan government and military. The new breed of Pakistanis journalist was more interested in what was payed to play by the domestic Pakistani consumer.

Mr Shahzad did not focus his stories intently on this "inside the loop" version of Pakistani news. He continued to focus on the line that was sold outside Pakistan, because let's face it, it effected those countries through violence; the continuous rise, and rise of Islamic extremism. And of course its murkier, and murkier connection with the Pakistani state.

This was no longer the open and shut training of Afghan Mujahideen in the eighties or of training Kashmiri guerrillas in the nineties. After 9/11, and in fact, after the airlift of evil, or as I call it, the airlift of buying General Musharraf credibility.

Parading the caught members of the airlift of evil would have been the easiest way to bring Pakistan to the reputational cul-de-sac it finds itself in, plus could have nipped the seeds even of the Taliban insurgency.

For God's sake, Pakistan AIR FORCE officers would have been taken as Prisoners of War inside Afghanistan in November 2001. I remember that time. It would be the current pressure Pakistan is facing, multiplied by a factor of ten or twenty. The Pakistan military, and General Musharraf should thank their lucky stars that President Bush and V.President Dick Cheney were incharge.

The thought of Pakistani Air Force officers being paraded around as POW's inside Afghanistan by the Americans in late 2001, would have bought the military to the DOMESTIC crisis point it faces right now within Pakistan; our soldiers being caught so closely in co-operation with the Taliban right after 9/11.

We were bought a good ten years.

The reason I bring the Airlift of Evil up, is that with the capture of Osama Bin Ladin a thousand yards from Kakul, a decade long obfuscation campaign has officially ended. The last ten years since 9/11 have been spent by ordinary citizens and reporters trying to decipher and cut through reams and reams and of bullshit spun by those at the top of multiple governmental heaps. Those would be the government heaps of the United States, and Pakistan. The Bush junta, and the Musharraf junta, constantly spinning a line of BS to keep people distracted from their own incompetenct complicities in crimes of commission over the last ten years.

To try and make sense of these problems, we the ordinary people were left with groups like Asia Times Online, and their ideologically charged reporters, such as Pepe Escobar, and the Urdu press influenced Syed Saleem Shahzad.

In those ten years, the Islamist virus entered Pakistan, mutated and turned in all different directions. Syed Saleem Shahzad remained focussed on it.

I first really took note of Saleem Shahzad's name when he appeared on an independent Canadian news program/Youtube channel called "The Real News". The Real News is known for having an independent bent, as it is lead by Paul Jay, an independent journalist and film producer, who's been running the Real News since the summer of 2007. I especially recall, "The Real News" introducing Beena Sarwar on film (this was the first time I had seen her on tv) in the time around the emergency and in the period leading immediately to what turned out to be the surprisingly independent February 2008 elections. Pepe Escobar was his regular international correspondent, and it is likely that he bought Saleem Shahzad in. When I first saw Saleem Shahzad on The Real News, I was not totally impressed with what I saw, but I had to admit that Mr Shahzad was somewhat on the right path. At that point, in and around the summer of 2007, the Musharraf regime was collapsing, and one was hoping that everything would be resolved with minimum bloodshed. That was not to happen.

During 2008, I ventured onto Asia Times Online, time and again, to try and make sense of the prevailing low level chaos that was ensuing. Even though I got some valuable editorial insight, the air of excessive speculation, and excessive reliance on ideology (an unreconstructed Marxism in the case of Pepe Escobar and prevalent ideological conservatism in the case of Saleem Shahzad and Spengler) was a bit of a turnoff for me. I read Asia Times on and off through 2008 and 2009, but came to feel they were not good for illumination on the development of Pakistan's democratic politics. Cyril Almeida lightly references this feature of Asia Times, when he describes Syed Saleem Shahzad's publisher and the last story that Mr Shahzad did that is likely the reason that got him killed:

Saleem was not mainstream media. He was committed to his work, yes; he knew well the contours of militancy in the region, yes; but he was not mainstream media. He traded in the currency of explosive revelations and, at least in the minds of editors and news directors of major media houses here, there was often that little bit of uncertainty surrounding the reporting.

His last piece was illustrative of this. That the PNS Mehran attack was facilitated by someone in uniform, retired or serving, seemed fairly clear to many. There had also been rumours for months about navy personnel picked up by intelligence agencies for links to jihadi groups, but the veil of secrecy was tight and veteran trackers of militancy had not got very far on the details.

Saleem’s last piece, though, was a narrative perfectly formed, all the pieces falling into place in a way most people familiar with such stuff would at least have raised an eyebrow at. The theory didn’t get much play locally or internationally and it would be fairly plausible to assume the second part of his two-part series would have been received with similarly cool interest.

After summarising the nature of Mr Shahzad's last story, and critically looking at the nature of his publisher, Cyril Almeida does turn to the very obvious facts of the present case:

So, we are left with the case of a journalist picked up from central Islamabad whose work had long since ceased to make waves in the media, and yet he was brutally tortured to death. That’s what makes the ‘why’ part so thoroughly unsettling, if not downright scary.

Cyril goes on to point out how now there will be a difficulty in determining what is going on in the further recesses of our deep state, a condition already difficult, exacerbated by this murder. The appropriate phrase is "chilling effect", but just the amount of outrage this murder has caused will lead many to question whether overt criticism of the military establishment can be stopped. The military establishment now knows that technologically, it is now difficult to stop people from overtly criticising it, however, the purpose Syed Saleem Shahzad's murder may serve may be to stop deep investigations of the deep state, those sort of attempts at understanding, where you are sometimes unsure whether you are speaking to a witness or a participant.

And that is what happened in the line of reporting Syed Saleem Shahzad was pursuing.

Here he is, on The Real News, on 20th May 2011, TWO DAYS BEFORE the attack on PNS Mehran, describing how there is a possibility of a mutiny brewing within the Pakistan military over the close co-operation with the United States. He had been tracking this in his news filings over arrests made in the Pakistan Navy of cells of Islamic extremists. Al Qaeda had threatened retaliation if those captured terrorists weren't released. That is why we had those bombings of Pakistan Navy buses.

Mutiny Inside the Pakistan Military

Much of what Saleem Shahzad said in this video is worth investigating. I don't have space to go into every salient thing he said, I would mention though, the fact that the ISI mis-reported to Musharraf who was behind the December 2003, completely fucking up relations between the Jihadis and the military (a month of rage, May 2004, was carried out in Karachi, attacking higher military leaders, possibly not unrelated to this) and General Kayani earned his chops, by actually being in charge of finding WHO tried to kill Musharraf in December 2003. Needless to say, Syed Saleem Shahzad, correctly predicted that there would be a partial mutiny inside the Pakistan military (it happened in the Navy, I think we may have to wait for the actual Army shoe to drop *shudder*) and just to add to the Saudi-Iran angle of them using Pakistan as a proxy battle ground, there is a LOT to be said for this, but just to blow your mind, here is a trailer with video of an Arab Sheikh handing out money to the families of kids who were used as camel jockeys in a Gulf Arab Emirate, on whom this is a documentary. The more important point is, here is a Gulf Sheikh, just randomly handing out money to a group of poor south Punjab Pakistanis.

If Pakistanis want to talk about sovereignty, they will also have to talk about how they are allowing all these countries to use their territory as a proxy battleground for all their stupid sectarian feuds. Saleem Shahzad's further points on the Taliban being stunned whilst simultaneously grieving for the loss of Bin Ladin are also valid assessments to make.

After the murder of Saleem Shahzad, from Pakistan's side, there has been loud anger, and a voicing of a desire for resistance and protest. Some of the responses have carried great personal steel, and resolve to not let matters continue in the way that they are. Others are not always too secure in this view.

Munizae Jahangir is right. This is a government that has been unable to even convict anybody for the murder of Benazir Bhutto. It was also interesting to see The Real News reference Asian Correspondent.

People will continue to speak against the excesses of the military establishment. But they are constantly unsure whether these criticisms or protestations will have much impact.

As for poor Syed Saleem Shahzad, he left a book. That was published just two weeks ago.

Called "Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11". I'm buying and reading it.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is survived by his three children and widow.


karachikhatmal said...

superb superb blog.

i was expecting a semi tirade from you but you've been so measured in this post - making your differences clear but no letting them subsume your general concerns. you've brought in a lot of excellent references too.

it is interesting that you mention that SS's main interests were in stuff that foreigners were interested in. that is completely true, but at the same time, it strikes me that we weren't interested in that stuff, because it was happening to us, by us, right under our noses. the whole militancy issue has been brewing for so long, but we all thought it would just deal with kashmir and rural, bumfuck areas.

karachikhatmal said...

superb superb blog.

i was expecting a semi tirade from you but you've been so measured in this post - making your differences clear but no letting them subsume your general concerns. you've brought in a lot of excellent references too.

it is interesting that you mention that SS's main interests were in stuff that foreigners were interested in. that is completely true, but at the same time, it strikes me that we weren't interested in that stuff, because it was happening to us, by us, right under our noses. the whole militancy issue has been brewing for so long, but we all thought it would just deal with kashmir and rural, bumfuck areas.

TLW said...

Thank you Karachi Khatmal. I thought that that showing maturity over time was necessary. I had followed Mr Shahzad's work for sometime and I began this sometime back, but between more news coming out, some personal work to do, and trying to gather some of Mr Shahzad's old references, it took some time to complete.

And the foreign-focused news, and our own news focus diverging, that sort of became obvious when we've had our own trend line created for a decade in the form of the Pakistani cable media. This divergence in narratives is something that we shunned, but I guess it may be time that both the domestic narrative and the foreign narrative started talking to each other.
Our own lack of focus on humdrum domestic stuff is something that I try to approach. People do have a tendency to ignore what's in their own backyard, even if it's OBL :-)
Maybe, that's what alternative media is for.

And it can make a difference; people talked about the ISI chief resigning, and lo and behold he offered his resignation.

Amna said...

Great post! You need to be more regular in writing here. Twitter's not enough. No kidding. I should really like to read what you thought of Saleem Shahzad's book (if you've read it now). I've successfully grabbed it from my bucketlist to read too.