Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief of the Asia Times Online, has been found dead near his car in Sarai Alamgir, about 200 kilometres from Islamabad. The body, according to reports, showed “signs of torture.”
This is a serious loss—not just for his family, which must mourn a senseless death, but for people trying to understand the inexplicable militancy in Pakistan. He often had incredible sources, embedding with the insurgency inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and bringing to light narratives, perspectives, and stories no one could even hope to touch. Shahzad also seemed to have close ties to the ISI, and he performed an invaluable service reflecting those views to the outside world.
Shahzad, in other words, helped us start to understand why things happen in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beyond his value as a human being—which means already that he couldn’t ever deserve to be abducted off the road and tortured to death—Syed Saleem Shahzad lived his life reporting things no one else would or could. And for that, we should celebrate what he accomplished.
Today, May 31, is Salman Taseer’s birthday. Taseer was the governor of the province of Punjab from 2008 until his assassination in early 2011. His killer, a bodyguard who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was widely celebrated within Pakistan. Will the same be true of Shahzad’s killers? I really hope not—Pakistani society’s indifference to the brutality directed at reporters and reformists is abhorrent.
In his last tweet (a depressing thing to tally), Shahzad had pointed to his most recent story, detailing the role al Qaeda played in a recent massive assault on a Pakistani Naval Base. His book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11, was released last week.