The 2002 execution-style murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl drew attention to the links between Pakistan’s intelligence services and extremist groups, including Al Qaeda. Relations between the media and the military-dominated regime have been consistently poor since the “war on terror” began. There is evidence tying the spy agencies to 21 kidnappings of journalists from 1999 to 2006.
In most cases – ranging from Geo TV correspondent Mukesh Rupeta’s abduction and torture in 2006 to the threats received by renowned Geo TV host Hamid Mir in December 2011 after referring to former ISI Director-General Ahmed Shuja Pashathose’s political role – those in charge of these intelligence agencies were never even questioned by civilian investigators.
The most recent case is that of Asia Times Online investigative reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was found dead in his car on 21 May 2011. A specialist in covering Islamist militant groups and Al Qaeda, he had just written about a Taliban attack on the Pakistani naval air base in Karachi, reporting that Al Qaeda had developed an effective network within the navy. He had also reported that naval officers had been negotiating with an Al Qaeda operative in North Waziristan. Many journalists in Islamabad suspect that ISI kidnapped and executed Shahzad.
Operating with impunity, the Pakistani intelligence agencies constitute a major threat to press freedom.