By Suhasini Haidar
June 2, 2011
The Pakistani journalist had been reporting on jihadism in the Pakistani military.
“Journalist sabka dost hota hai (Journalists are everybody's friends),” was Saleem Shahzad's response when I asked him about the Taliban connections of a common acquaintance, “What matters is if he gets the story or not.” In his career, Shahzad had certainly been accused of “playing all sides of the fence” — the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but his brutal death showed that he had made some very powerful enemies as well.
Many are shocked with the boldness of his abductors — that a prominent journalist could be taken from the heart of Islamabad's high security zone, somewhere between the capital's F-8 and F-6 sectors. When his body surfaced in a river canal, bearing marks of torture — broken ribs, the use of rods — it showed that those who meant to kill him, also wanted to send a message to others like him. Some have written that it was Shahzad's last article, drawing links between the “PNS Mehran” naval base attacks and jihadist elements within the Navy which was the motive for his killers. And the angry reaction from other Pakistani journalists has been, “If the all-powerful ISI isn't behind the killing, then surely it can and must find out who is.”
But drawing the world's attention to al-Qaeda's infiltration of the Pakistani military goes beyond any one article Shahzad may have written — the running theme of much of his reporting in the last few years. He is the only journalist to have interviewed terrorist commanders Ilyas Kashmiri and Baitullah Mehsud, consistently holding the view that even as they planned diabolical attacks on the Pakistani army, they had help from retired or “rogue” Army officers. Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, he believed, had been originally raised by ISI officers to fight against India, and diverted to fighting on the Afghan border when the India-Pakistan peace process forced a drawback on the ‘Kashmiri jihad.' Shahzad said these officers had continued their links with Ilyas Kashmiri.
While many are now comparing Shahzad's death to other journalists who have been assaulted or killed over the last few years (at least 12 have been killed in the past year, according to Reporters without Borders), one may also see parallels with the death of a Pakistani Army officer in October 2008. Maj-General Ameer Faisal Alvi, the retired chief of the elite Special Service Group (SSG) (similar to India's National Security Guards), was travelling to his office in Islamabad's G-11 sector , when he was shot by gunmen on motorbikes. Alvi had threatened to expose two generals he said had been cutting deals with TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud, and warned of a nexus between ISI operatives, the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), and Punjabi Taliban group Sipah-e-Sahiba. Shahzad's writing chronicled links between the ISI, al-Qaeda, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In his book ‘Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11: Inside the Taliban and Al Qaeda', released 10 days before his death, Shahzad showed how the 26/11 attack plan was originally planned in an ISI special cell, and then abandoned. He shows correspondence that proved a former major and LeT operative Maj. Haroon Ashiq had picked up the plan from Ilyas Kashmir, and then took charge of the logistical planning of the 26/11 attacks. Maj. Haroon is perhaps the biggest link between the two stories: the prime accused in the assassination of General Alvi, arrested and charged, but acquitted in the trial. Incidentally, Ilyas Kashmiri's name appears in the original charge sheet of General Alvi's murder as a co-conspirator.
Both men, Alvi and Shahzad, left emails to be released in case they were killed. While both clearly knew about such a threat, neither was willing to give up telling the world what they believed.
Ironically, the world wasn't ready to listen. Shahzad firmly believed that the jihad virus did not run across the Pakistani army, but had taken control of a few key officers who were in dangerously senior positions. When he spoke to Pakistani officials of al-Qaeda infiltration, he got, understandably, no audience. Even here in India, Shahzad said, few were interested in his theories about 26/11. At a lecture at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Analysis (IDSA) in New Delhi last year, he said, the audience seemed less interested in the al-Qaeda link to 26/11 as they were to fixing the Mumbai attacks on the top leadership of Pakistan's government and army. He warned that al-Qaeda's plans, and that of ISI officials working with them remained to ignite an India-Pakistan war. Their aims are met, he said, each time the peace process falters, as he warned of more such attacks sponsored by radicalised insiders in the Pakistani military and al-Qaeda, carried out by the TTP and the LeT, in India and Pakistan.
The problem of radicalised officers dates back to the vision of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, a devout Muslim, who believed in raising Pakistan's Army as “Allah's army.” Author Shuja Nawaz, whose brother, Army Chief Asif Nawaz, died mysteriously in 1993, details Zia's efforts in his book ‘Crossed Swords,' in particular, his encouragement of recruits from madrassas and the Jamaat-e-Islami, and of bringing Tableeghi Jamaat preachers to deliver sermons every week at garrisons. Interestingly, in the wake of the “PNS Mehran” base attack, and commando complicity in the planning, General Kayani passed a rule effectively banning Tableeghis from entering any cantonment area. The rule followed the discovery that several officers had been taking study leave to travel with the Tableeghis, and instead training at militant camps in Waziristan. In a sense, al-Qaeda has managed to complete the task General Zia, unknowing of its repercussions, set out to do. “Insiders,” former military officers and soldiers, have, in recent years, been charged with various terror attacks inside Pakistan, including assassination attempts on General Musharraf, the GHQ attack in Rawalpindi, the Parade Lane Mosque massacre, in which 17 children of army officers were among 36 gunned down, and the Lahore Police academy attack.
Syed Saleem Shahzad had been pointing to this trend of radicalisation, to the enemy within Pakistan's forces for years. He died not so much for writing about the trend, as perhaps for the fact that his voice was now being heard and taken seriously, especially with the publication of his book. A trend of radicalisation, like the Jhelum in which Saleem's body was found, whose flow won't be easy to stem, or to reverse.
(Suhasini Haidar is Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN. She interviewed Syed Saleem Shahzad on May 8, 2011.)
Source: The Hindu
Syed Saleem Shahzad’s last story whose sequel he was still working on and which probably got him killed:
Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online
May 31, 2011
ISLAMABAD - Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals.
Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants.
At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C
Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.
An official statement placed the number of militants at six, with four killed and two escaping. Unofficial sources, though, claim there were 10 militants with six getting free. Asia Times Online contacts confirm that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.
Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda's demands over the detained suspects.
The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan's surveillance capacity against the Indian navy.
The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy.
Volcano of militancy
Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country's largest city and key port.
"Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces," a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
"We never felt threatened by that. All armed forces around the world, whether American, British or Indian, take some inspiration from religion to motivate their cadre against the enemy. Pakistan came into existence on the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and therefore no one can separate Islam and Islamic sentiment from the armed forces of Pakistan," the official said.
"Nonetheless, we observed an uneasy grouping on different naval bases in Karachi. While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces. That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities."
The official explained the grouping was against the leadership of the armed forces and opposed to its nexus with the United States against Islamic militancy. When some messages were intercepted hinting at attacks on visiting American officials, intelligence had good reason to take action and after careful evaluation at least 10 people - mostly from the lower cadre - were arrested in a series of operations.
"That was the beginning of huge trouble," the official said.
Those arrested were held in a naval intelligence office behind the chief minister's residence in Karachi, but before proper interrogation could begin, the in-charge of the investigation received direct threats from militants who made it clear they knew where the men were being detained.
The detainees were promptly moved to a safer location, but the threats continued. Officials involved in the case believe the militants feared interrogation would lead to the arrest of more of their loyalists in the navy. The militants therefore made it clear that if those detained were not released, naval installations would be attacked.
It was clear the militants were receiving good inside information as they always knew where the suspects were being detained, indicating sizeable al-Qaeda infiltration within the navy's ranks. A senior-level naval conference was called at which an intelligence official insisted that the matter be handled with great care, otherwise the consequences could be disastrous. Everybody present agreed, and it was decided to open a line of communication with al-Qaeda.
Abdul Samad Mansoori, a former student union activist and now part of 313 brigade, who originally hailed from Karachi but now lives in the North Waziristan tribal area was approached and talks begun. Al-Qaeda demanded the immediate release of the officials without further interrogation. This was rejected.
The detainees were allowed to speak to their families and were well treated, but officials were desperate to interrogate them fully to get an idea of the strength of al-Qaeda's penetration. The militants were told that once interrogation was completed, the men would be discharged from the service and freed.
Al-Qaeda rejected these terms and expressed its displeasure with the attacks on the navy buses in April.
These incidents pointed to more than the one al-Qaeda cell intelligence had tracked in the navy. The fear now was that if the problem was not addressed, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines could face a new threat. NATO convoys are routinely attacked once they begin the journey from Karachi to Afghanistan; now they could be at risk in Karachi port. Americans who often visit naval facilities in the city would also be in danger.
Therefore, another crackdown was conducted and more people were arrested. Those seized had different ethnic backgrounds. One naval commando came from South Waziristan's Mehsud tribe and was believed to have received direct instructions from Hakeemullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban). Others were from Punjab province and Karachi, the capital of Sindh province.
After Bin Laden was killed by American Navy Seals in Abbottabad, 60 kilometers north of Islamabad, militants decided the time was ripe for major action.
Within a week, insiders at PNS Mehran provided maps, pictures of different exit and entry routes taken in daylight and at night, the location of hangers and details of likely reaction from external security forces.
As a result, the militants were able to enter the heavily guarded facility where one group targeted the aircraft, a second group took on the first strike force and a third finally escaped with the others providing covering fire. Those who stayed behind were killed.
Next: Recruitment and training of militants
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief and author of Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org