On May 30, 2011, the mutilated body of 41-year-old Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was found in a canal near Islamabad. Shahzad had done many investigative stories about the Taliban and other Islamist groups and their links with the ISI. Just a few days prior to his killing, Shahzad had been summoned by the ISI and warned about a report he had filed regarding the arrest by the ISI of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a senior Afghan Taliban leader. Shahzad refused to relent, and found threats to his life from the ISI were increasing. He told a Western journalist just before he was kidnapped: “Look, I am in danger. I have to get out of Pakistan.” Human Rights Watch, with which Shahzad was in touch, accused the ISI of killing him.
In more recent times, well-known television anchor Hamid Mir carried a series of reports of mysterious disappearances of Baluchi nationalists, who were known to have been in ISI/military custody. The ISI has brazenly ignored directives of the Pakistan Supreme Court to produce Baluchis known to have been in military custody. Like Shahzad, Mir was warned by the ISI to desist from carrying reports on disappearances in Baluchistan. He refused to fall in line and had six bullets pumped into his body, while travelling by a car in Karachi. Mir and his relatives, backed by the Jang Media Group that he worked for, made no secret of their belief that given the circumstances of the attack on Mir, it was the ISI alone that could have it carried out. Amnesty International has recently documented 34 cases of journalists being killed in recent times in Pakistan. David Griffiths, Amnesty’s Asia Pacific director, noted: “A critical step would be for Pakistan to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice.”
The attack on Mir also led to further cooling in the strained relationship between PM Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. Relations between the two were already frosty because of the army’s displeasure at the trial of General Musharraf for “high treason” by the civil judiciary. Moreover, the impetuous Nawaz Sharif had also decided to commence a “peace process” with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which involved declaration of a ceasefire with the TTP and free passage for its leadership through parts of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. This was done without due consultation with and concurrence of the army, which had recently lost a senior General, who was killed by the TTP. A sullen military has disregarded the ceasefire, with the air force pummelling TTP strongholds.
While General Sharif showed solidarity with the ISI by visiting its headquarters when it was facing nationwide criticism after the attempt to kill Mir, Nawaz Sharif travelled to Karachi and met Mir and his family in hospital. Relations between the PM and his army chief are reminiscent of the relationship between Sharif and the military in his two previous tenures. Sharif was ousted from office in 1993 by then Army Chief General Waheed Kakkar. He earlier had a not too cordial relationship with Kakkar’s predecessor, General Asif Nawaz. In his second term, Nawaz Sharif preemptorily sacked a highly regarded army Chief, General Jehangir Karamat. But, when he tried to dismiss General Musharraf, after differences over who was to blame for the Kargil fiasco (for which both were equally responsible), Musharraf staged a coup. Nawaz Sharif was jailed and would possibly have been hanged if the Saudi monarchy had not intervened and arranged for his exile to Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan is going through difficult and volatile times. There will be differences between Nawaz and his army chief over how to deal with India, Afghanistan and radical Islamic groups in Pakistan. New Delhi has to be prepared for uncertain times in its relations with Pakistan.
Dadpartha@gmail.com The writer is a former diplomat