What Happens When Journalists Take on Pakistan’s ISI

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Omar Waraich examines for TIME what happens when a Pakistani journalist dares to criticize the powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. Although the ISI was originally conceived as an external intelligence agency, it has a profound influence on Pakistan’s domestic politics, and is now widely accused of carrying out the kidnapping, torture and murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad. Accusations of torture and extralegal practices are not new for the ISI, but have grown  they are being made in the mass-media. Waraich explains how this outcry is part of a larger trend of the public and the media criticizing the military. The media, however, is facing a pushback from elements within the military, long considered the most powerful institution in Pakistan. A lawsuit has been brought against three outspoken, prominent journalists for being too critical of the ISI and the military establishment. Waraich writes:

The speculation struck a raw nerve at the ISI’s headquarters in Islamabad. For decades, the ISI has evaded much public scrutiny. Human-rights groups accuse it of rigging elections, destabilizing governments, boosting jihadist proxies, kidnapping and carrying out extrajudicial executions. Discreetly, many Pakistanis make the same charges. But the murder of Shahzad marks a turning point: now the allegations are being made in the mainstream media, adding to a recent wave of unprecedented criticism of the military.

A striking example is a bluntly worded and widely read column by Ejaz Haider, a defense specialist who writes for several newspapers. “The ISI, the agency that you head, is being accused of Saleem’s murder,” Haider wrote in the op-ed that was cast as an open letter to ISI chief Lieut. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha. “You must know that the ISI is widely reviled and dreaded at home. For an agency that was set up primarily for strategic intelligence, this is quite an achievement.”

Read the full article here.