Saleem Shahzad: the journalist who was not afraid of the ISI

Pakistan's intelligence services are prime suspects for silencing the journalist.

The death of Saleem Shahzad brings to three the high profile political assassinations in Pakistan this year. Like Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities, Shahzad also refused to bow to the ISI -- whom he named directly. On the cusp of revealing high level rogue military involvement in the attacks on the Mehran-Karachi naval base on Dunya tv he was taken into custody and killed.

Shahzad fought to show the real workings of the Pakistan military/ISI state which have been so obscured through a long-term programme to its citizens of state propaganda, jingoism, conspiracy theories and disinformation. He had evidence of their sponsorship of extremism and their involvement in the 2008 Mumbai bombings.

More pernicious has been the long drip of propaganda to the ordinary people in Pakistan through Urdu medium television and newspapers, a proportion of which are owned or have some journalists in pay by the ISI. A senior Pakistan editor tweeted in response to decades of disinformation: "We as a nation are so used to conspiracy theories, it sickens me. CIA/RAW/Mossad/Blackwater are NOT killing our people. WAKE UP" @mehmal. She continued: "No difference between the army/ISI/Taliban/al-Qaeda/jihadis/fanatics/bigots: they will all kill you whenever they want".

But there are signs after the Abbottabad raid that the ISI may be in disarray. The information on the cache of 100 memory sticks found at the Bin Laden compound is in US hands; the rogue elements of the ISI do not know to what extent it blows the lid on their involvement with al Qaeda and indeed their own networks. And they are facing a hostile press in Pakistan, although it has succumbed before to ISI sweeteners and the usual line that the army is protecting the country.

In any case, it isn't the English language middle-classes that need enlightenment. To bring change to the regime, the combined media will have to blow away decades of falsity and deceit to the ordinary and impoverished people of Pakistan . Most notably that the enemy is not without but within, and that the military has misled the state and its people over decades.

The lower ranks of the army in their assaults in north and south Waziristan were always told that India was sponsoring the Taliban. Anatol Lieven, who recounted this, also pointed out that in WW2 a troop of Breton soldiers were found to get a greater spring in their step when they were told that they were off to fight the British. India, which is not innocent of its own media-led anti Pakistani propaganda, is favourable to peace and improved trade, but with China putting pressure on its Himalayan borders, would probably settle over Kashmir and would welcome an EU type federation of subcontinental states.

Shahzad was an exceptionally courageous man because he was aware of the likely outcome of his reporting. He left a statement with Human Rights Watch that should he disappear, he had been receiving threats and the ISI was responsible.

In Pakistan the crucial state communication structure is creaking under the weight of disinformation the regime has put out and the fear and intimidation that they have used to keep it in place.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, like Taseer and Bhatti, were silenced because full-knowing the risks, they said no.

Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.

 

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Shock Wales YouGov poll shows that Labour's Ukip nightmare is coming true

The fear that voting Ukip would prove a gateway drug for Labour voters appears to be being borne out. 

An astonishing new poll for the Cardiff University Governance Centre and ITV Cymru shows a historic result: the Conservatives ending a 167-year wait for an election victory in Wales.

The numbers that matter:

Conservatives: 40 per cent

Labour: 30 per cent

Plaid Cymru: 13 per cent

Liberal Democrats: 8 per cent

Ukip: 6 per cent

Others: 3 per cent

And for context, here’s what happened in 2015:

Labour 36.9 per cent

Conservatives 27.2 per cent

Ukip 13.6 per cent

Plaid Cymru 12.1 per cent

Liberal Democrat 6.5 per cent

Others 2.6 per cent

There’s a lot to note here. If repeated at a general election, this would mean Labour losing an election in Wales for the first time since the First World War. In addition to losing the popular vote, they would shed ten seats to the Tories.

We're talking about a far more significant reverse than merely losing the next election. 

I don’t want to detract from how bad the Labour performance is in a vacuum – they have lost 6.9 per cent of their vote on 2015, in any case the worst election performance for Labour in Wales since the rout of 1983.  But the really terrifying thing for Labour is not what is happening to their own vote, though that is pretty terrifying.

It’s what’s happened to the Conservative vote – growing in almost every direction. There is some direct Labour to Tory slippage. But the big problem is the longtime fear of Labour MPs – that voting for Ukip would be a gateway drug to voting for the mainstream right – appears to be being realised. Don't forget that most of the Ukip vote in Wales is drawn from people who voted Labour in 2010. (The unnoticed shift of the 2010-5 parliament in a lot of places was a big chunk of the Labour 2010 vote went to Ukip, but was replaced by a chunk of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote.) 

If repeated across the United Kingdom, the Tory landslide will be larger than the 114 majority suggested by the polls and a simple national swing.

As I’ve said before, polls are useful, but they are not the be-all and end-all. The bad news is that this very much supports the pattern at elections since the referendum – Labour falling back, the Tories losing some votes to the Liberal Democrats but more than making up the loss thanks to the collapse of Ukip.

The word from Welsh Labour is that these figures “look about right” at least as far as the drop in the Labour vote, though of course they have no idea what is going on with their opponents’ vote share. As for the Conservatives, their early experiences on the doorstep do show the Ukip vote collapsing to their benefit.

One Labour MP said to me a few days again that they knew their vote was holding up – what they didn’t know was what was happening to their opponents. That’s particularly significant if you have a “safe seat” but less than 50 per cent of the vote.

Wales has local elections throughout the country on 4 May. They should provide an early sign whether these world-shaking figures are really true. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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