After the outcry over the killing of Sabeen Mahmud, a new Twitter trend #BlameISI appeared to make the point that it is too easy to blame agencies for everything under the sun. Point taken, but I couldn’t help but also wonder why it is so easy to blame ISI? One of the most popular defences of ISI in Sabeen Mahmud case was included in a piece by Ali Afzal Sahi published by Daily Times:
Firstly, a fundamental rule underlying criminal law is that the primary suspect is that who benefits most from the murder. Treading along this line of thought, what can be clearly ascertained is that ISI has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Any sane person would have guessed that if she is hurt, ISI will be blamed.
This is fascinating. Think about what he is saying: “Any sane person would have guessed that if she is hurt, ISI will be blamed.” Why would any sane person guess that ISI will be blamed if a liberal intellectual who hosts a discussion of Balochistan is harmed? Shouldn’t this be the question we are asking?
Reading this left my head spinning. Then, I found what I believe is the answer in an opinion piece by esteemed lawyer and analyst Feisal Naqvi.
The first point is that the problem is not just that nobody knows the answer today: the problem is that we will probably never know who killed her. Just like we will never know who killed Saleem Shehzad. Or Wali Muhammad. Or Parween Rehman. Or Benazir Bhutto. Or Omar Asghar Khan. Or Hakim Said. Or General Ziaul Haq. Or Liaquat Ali Khan.
A few days ago, rumours began to circulate that an ISI sting operation had nabbed the killers and they would be exposed soon. I was relieved. Not just because I don’t want to believe that my own security forces would be willing or able to have a defenceless woman killed over a discussion, but because it would be a sign that things had taken a turn and justice would be carried out. We are still waiting for the announcement, and actually by now I have turned cynical for exactly the reason that Faisal Naqvi makes: Historically, we never learn the answers.
Politicians and Army spokesmen are prone to speaking in riddles. When explaining who is behind such attacks, we are told that there is insurmountable proof of ‘foreign hand’ or ‘known elements’ or ‘enemy agents’. Never a name, though. Never a photograph. There are vague insinuations, but never details.
Feisal Naqvi finally put into words what I have been feeling since long. So, with apologies to him, I am going to borrow his final paragraph:
I have no reason to doubt the DG ISPR’s sincerity when he condemns the murder of Sabeen Mahmud. At a personal level, I very much doubt that our agencies had anything to do with her death. But in the absence of any independent accountability or trustworthy form of dispute resolution, all we are left with are his words. And words really don’t go that far.
The best defence of ISI is not a social media trend or a threats against media airing hate speech against national institutions. A better defence of ISI is for our intelligence agencies to find the killers and expose them by making the detailed evidence public, no matter who the killers are. The best defence is for agencies to stop these killings before they ever happen.