Last weekend when we were celebrating our red, white and blue galore in the U.S., and barbecuing in the safety of our yards and communities, a country continued to bleed thousands of miles away.
It’s the one that for obvious reasons cannot stay out of news—Pakistan.
Tonight a family mourns the passing away of one of its members, murdered because he dared to state the truth. Syed Saleem Shahzad was Pakistan’s bureau chief for Asia Times Online. He left one evening to appear on a talk show and never returned. His body was found the next day—with evidence of prolonged torture.
It was obvious that the end did not come easily for that seeker of truth and justice.The pain inflicted on Shahzad’s body was perhaps felt in the bones of many who report daily from that part of the world. And for good reason too. With the death of Shahzad, Pakistan is now the most dangerous country for journalists.
A total of 102 journalists were killed last year alone.
No longer can journalists find solace in the famous lines of the talented but naïve Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz who once said, Bol ke Lab Azad He Tere, Speak for your tongue is free.
Mr. Faiz, 27 years after your death, our tongues might be free but our society is not.
Some would say 40-year old Shahzad led a risky life. Living in that part of the world you don’t play with fire––unless you are a moth hungry for a glimmer of light.
Shahzad had been warned countless times before to stop reporting on information considered sensitive by officials and riddled with deceit and corruption. After one such warning, he voiced concerns about his own safety but did not stop working.
A few days before his abduction, Shahzad reported on al-Qaida’s infiltration of the navy at the heel of a 17-hour insurgent siege at a naval base in Pakistan.
With that story, some say, he paid for with his life.
I think of the wife who now bears the burden of telling her three children what happened to their father.
Would they ever dare to live the life he led? Would they ever choose the nerve-wracking life of a journalist?
The Center for Strategic and International Studies recently reported that Pakistan has entered the most volatile period of its history due to “unprecedented political, economic and social turmoil.” The daily lives of its citizens are punctuated by many periods that affect the normal flow of life and work—curfews, roadside bombs, insurgency, threats, robberies, kidnappings, secular violence and widespread corruption.
Some, like us, respond to all that by escaping to nations that can ensure the safety of our lives and that of our generations, rather than endure the grueling task of attempting to create it within the lands of our birth. We choose to live in a society where we don’t have to explain to our children why their progress is hindered by the acts of the very people who vow to protect it.
One wonders why the talented and able youth of Pakistan don’t come forward to take the reins of the battered country? Have we not seen in recent past what happens when a group of driven individuals take charge of a nation and in an instant alter the course of history?
The answer is simple. That is because those individuals have long fled. And those that remain have been successfully silenced.
I wonder who are the cowards in this game?
When it comes to courage, even those of us burning with the flame of reporting cannot come close to the one who lost his life in the line of duty.
Shahzad did what many of us didn’t dare do.
He chose to stay.