Weeks before the Asia Times Online bureau chief, Syed Saleem Shahzad, was brutally killed, I was driving down from Islamabad to Rawalpindi, nonchalantly swishing down the expressway. Suddenly, a vehicle zipped past me from the right, swung across my path, perhaps less than a foot from my bumper, and screeched to a halt on the berm to the left. That reckless manoeuvre made me slam the brake pedal and bring my car to a halt. Reeling under shock, I glanced at the driver, who, in contrast, seemed as calm as a practised Hollywood stunt driver.
Having been a journalist who has faced this sort of unpleasantness over 30 years, I didn’t get out and harangue him, or demand his visiting card. I knew he wanted to convey a message. Did I know what it was? Well, as I began to crawl down the highway, I recalled the stories I had done recently, wondering which of those could have irked the Establishment. It had to be the story published two days back in The News, headlined, Who has been caught with their pants down, ISI or cia? Written at the time the Raymond Davis affair had Pakistan deeply enraged, it was one of those rare stories based on the briefings of ISI officials who, in order to defend themselves against the CIA, had disclosed their identities to me even though the intelligence agency isn’t the beat I cover. They obviously hadn’t told their juniors about the cooperation extended to me, I surmised.