July 11, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3991

Editorials in Pakistani Dailies Call for Accountability for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Accusing It of Nurturing Terror Organizations

July 11, 2011
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 3991

A cartoon showing Pakistan in bed with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (Courtesy:

On June 1, 2011, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) issued a statement which sought to deny its involvement in the killing of noted Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, an internationally known investigative journalist and expert on Al-Qaeda who was killed after he wrote an article detailing the existence of Al-Qaeda cells within Pakistani Navy.[1] The article was written in the wake of the May 22 terrorist attack on PNS Mehran, the headquarters of Pakistan Navy in Karachi. Soon after the publication of the article, Shahzad was picked up by suspected ISI officials and his body was found later. The Pakistani media has blamed the ISI for Shahzad's killing.

The rare ISI statement, which was released by an unidentified official, noted: "It is regrettable that some sections of the media have taken it upon themselves to use the incident to target and malign the ISI. Baseless accusations against the country's sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad's murder are totally unfounded. In the absence of any evidence and when an investigation is still pending, such allegations are tantamount to unprofessional conduct on the part of the media."[2]

The killing of Shahzad has shed fresh light on the role of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which has been in international news headlines for its role in raising, training, and protecting jihadi organizations in Pakistan with a view to use them as an instrument of furthering Pakistan's foreign policy objectives.

Currently, the ISI's role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks has come up for a hearing before a court in New York, with the case being filed by the relatives of American citizens killed in the attacks. ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha has been summoned by the New York court to answer questions about his agency's role in the attacks. In Chicago, a court is hearing star witness Pakistani-American David Headley, who is divulging his links with the ISI in plotting the Mumbai terror attacks and in hatching another terror plot, in association with Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana, against Denmark.

The ISI's role is discussed in the editorials given below. A May 26 editorial titled "LeT-ISI Ties," published by the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, examined the links between the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ISI, especially in view of the Chicago trial. Another editorial in the same newspaper dated June 6 and titled "Breaking Our Silence" called for the accountability of the Pakistani spy agencies. The Express Tribune daily, in a June 3 editorial titled "The Death of Truth," rejected the ISI statement denying its role in the killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad. It also criticized the ISI statement over its call for media responsibility in the "national interests," saying: "This badly overused term ['national interests'] is one that arouses anger. We should have realized by now that the interests of our country can be served only by telling the truth."

"LeT And the ISI have Long Been Known to Have Ties; The ISI is Said to Have Nurtured and Trained Members of the LeT…"

Following are excerpts from the May 26 Daily Times editorial:[3]

"In one of the most important terrorism trials, being held in Chicago these days, Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a co-accused in the… Mumbai attack case, is being tried. The star witness is David Headley, a Pakistani-American and Rana's best friend. Headley confessed to his ties with the ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based banned terrorist organization. He revealed some shocking details of how the Mumbai terror plot was planned and carried out with their help.

"Headley also told the court there was a plan to attack the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten after blasphemous cartoons were published in it. 'Lashkar wanted to plan something. We were all infuriated,' Headley told the court. When the LeT put the Danish terror plot on hold, Headley turned to Ilyas Kashmiri, who is known to have ties with Al-Qaeda.

"The implications of this trial for Pakistan are going to be immense. LeT and the ISI have long been known to have ties. The ISI is said to have nurtured and trained members of the LeT to conduct cross-border attacks in Indian Kashmir and inside India. After being banned, the LeT resurfaced by changing its name to Jamatud Dawa (JuD). On the pretext of doing 'charity work', the JuD has a heavy presence in Pakistan, especially in Azad Kashmir."

"The Only Way to Remedy the Situation is By Abandoning the Policy of Harboring Terrorists; It is Time to Dismantle the Military-Jihadi Nexus"

"Despite knowing that the JuD is a front for the LeT, our authorities have turned a blind eye to its activities in the public domain. After the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, the ISI and LeT were accused of masterminding and carrying out the attacks by India. Pakistan has denied these charges and maintained that non-state actors were responsible for 26/11.

"Given how Headley is singing in the court, it would not be wrong to say that Pakistan seems to be in deep trouble. The international community already views the ISI with suspicion. On the heels of Osama bin Laden's killing in Pakistan, the revelations in the Rana trial are of great relevance. In view of the ongoing trial, there has been a concerted campaign in our electronic media to project LeT chief Hafiz Saeed as someone who is a paragon of virtue.

"What our security establishment fails to understand is that a PR campaign in Pakistan is not going to help us when it comes to the world community. The only way to remedy the situation is by abandoning the policy of harboring terrorists. It is time to dismantle the military-jihadi nexus."

"Pakistan's Premier Intelligence Agency, the ISI, is Accused of Killing Mr. Shahzad; In Its Defense, an ISI Official Denied the Reports"

Following are excerpts from the June 6 Daily Times editorial:[4]

"The death of Syed Saleem Shahzad sent shockwaves throughout the journalist community, not just in Pakistan but all over the world. Mr. Shahzad's gruesome murder served as a grim reminder to Pakistani journalists how difficult it is to do honest reporting in a harsh environment where your enemies can get away with bloody murder. But now is not the time to remain silent.

"Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the ISI, is accused of killing Mr. Shahzad. In its defense, an ISI official denied the reports. 'The reported e-mail of Mr. Saleem Shahzad to Mr. Ali Hasan Dayan of HRW [Human Rights Watch], which is being made the basis of baseless allegations levelled against the ISI has no veiled or unveiled threats in it,' said the ISI official. Debunking the ISI's statement, president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) Hameed Haroon confirmed that the e-mail was 'indeed one of the three identical e-mails sent by Mr. Shahzad to HRW, his employers (Asia Times Online) and to his former employer, myself. Mr. Haroon further stated that Mr. Shahzad confided to him and 'several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years."'

"There Should Not be Any No-Go Areas, and Even 'Sacred Cows' Like Our Intelligence Agencies should Be Made Answerable"

"The calls for making an independent investigation commission into Mr. Shahzad's murder have found resonance the world over. 'All aspects of this crime, including the possibility of links to the ISI, need to be independently investigated and prosecuted,' said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. The government of Pakistan has so far assured that an independent commission would indeed be set up but what we really need to ensure is that this commission has the power and the requisite political will to carry out its investigation without any form of intimidation.

"There should not be any no-go areas, and even 'sacred cows' like our intelligence agencies should be made answerable. Pakistani journalists are under constant threat from all sorts of elements, be it terror groups, extremist forces, or our security establishment. The blood of our brave journalists must not go in vain. This has to end, now.

"The culture of impunity is so prevalent in Pakistani society that getting justice has become almost unachievable. All quarters have to realize that in this day of information technology, truth will see the light of day through one medium or another. Silencing voices of dissent will not weaken our resolve to uncover the truth. The battle for truth may be long and hard but the journalist community of Pakistan will win it in the end…"

"The Death of Journalist Hayatullah Khan in 2006, in North Waziristan, Remains Unsolved' Then, as is the Case Now [of Saleem Shahzad], the Hand of the [Pakistani] Intelligence Agencies was Suspected"

Following are excerpts from the June 3 Express Tribune editorial:[5]

"For all the talk of unfettered media freedoms in Pakistan, the tragic death of Saleem Shahzad makes it obvious that this is essentially a myth. Facing a barrage of accusations stating it had a hand in the abduction of Shahzad from Islamabad, and the subsequent dumping of his body – with torture marks visible on it – in a canal, the ISI has issued an unusual denial stating it had nothing to do with the matter and making vague declarations about media irresponsibility and a need to defend 'national interests.'

"This badly overused term is one that arouses anger. We should have realized by now that the interests of our country can be served only by telling the truth. Shahzad, who died at the peak of his career, was trying to do just that. The ISI statement makes matters even more suspicious. This is especially true given the stories that Shahzad wasworking on in his final days. Reports say these were related to events at PNS Mehran [i.e. the May 22 terror attack on Pakistan Navy headquarter], the Al-Qaeda link to the plot and its goal to force the release of navy men held for terrorist links.

"A previous story that had annoyed the ISI was one regarding the release of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar by Pakistani authorities. This had led to the journalist being summoned by the ISI and, after a 'talking to,' he was delivered a warning that he was on the 'hit list' of terrorists.

"Saleem Shahzad's violent death in these circumstances leaves open a lot of very dark questions. They need to be answered. It is unsafe to ignore them. The perils of this have been seen before. The death of journalist Hayatullah Khan in 2006, in North Waziristan, remains unsolved. Then, as is the case now, the hand of the intelligence agencies was suspected. Many others have received warnings, or been 'roughed up.' Most opt to stay away from reporting on such matters because they value their lives and know that not many people or groups will come to their protection. Saleem Shahzad did not do so. Is this why he met his terrible end? We need to know."


[1] See Pakistani Journalist's Report Examines the Presence of Al-Qaeda Cells Within the Pakistan Navy, MEMRI Special Dispatches Series No. 3881, June 1, 2011 (Pakistani Journalist's Report Examines the Presence of Al-Qaeda Cells Within the Pakistan Navy)

[2] The News (Pakistan), June 2, 2011.

[3] Daily Times (Pakistan), May 26, 2011.

[4] Daily Times (Pakistan), June 6, 2011.

[5] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), June 3, 2011.

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