Islamabad: Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist over his scathing reports about militant infiltration in the country’s military, according to US officials.
In the meantime, Pakistan said the fresh allegations by US officials that ISI ordered the killing of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad were part of an "international conspiracy" to malign the country`s security forces.
"There is an international conspiracy to malign the law enforcement agencies and security forces. (These allegations) are part of that conspiracy," Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters on the sidelines of a SAARC seminar here.
Awan did not give any details of the "international conspiracy" that she referred to.
New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of Saleem Shahzad from Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior ISI officials directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, The New York Times quoted two senior administration officials, as saying.
The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable and conclusive, showed that the actions of the ISI, as it is known, were “barbaric and unacceptable”, one of the officials said.
The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence, and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials, the report said.
“There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this,” said one.
A third senior US official said there were enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed, the report added.
“Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.
The disclosure of this information could further aggravate the badly fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which has worsened significantly since the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan safe house on May 02, and consequently, deeply embarrassed the Pakistani government, military and intelligence hierarchy.
Obama administration officials will deliberate in the coming days on how to present the information about Shahzad to the Pakistan Government, an administration official said.
Shahzad was the 37th journalist killed in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The day after Shahzad’s waterlogged body was retrieved from a canal 60 miles from Islamabad, the ISI publicly denied accusations in the Pakistani news media that it had been responsible, calling them “totally unfounded”.
Referring to the current impasse in Pakistan-US relations, Firdous Ashiq Awan said friendship between any two countries is a bilateral matter and "everybody safeguards their own interests".
She added: "Whenever there is a clash of interests, such things happen".
There had been "ups and downs" in relations between Pakistan and the US but "good relations are in the interest of both countries," she said.
To a question about the Shamsi airbase in southwest Pakistan that is believed to used by the US for drone flights, Awan said the Pakistan People`s Party-led government has not given the airbase to "anyone" and there was no written agreement on the use of the facility by any party.
"We have not given the airbase to anyone and we are not taking it back. (No agreement) exists in this regard," she said.
Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar recently said that Pakistan had asked the US to vacate Shamsi airbase.
Reports in the US media quoted unnamed American officials as saying that drone flights from the airbase had been suspended since April.
Awan said there was no agreement on the use of Shamsi airbase by anyone in the government`s "files or defined parameters".
She said: "If there is something in a file or in writing about approval (being given for the use of the airbase), then we can reverse it".
(With Agencies` inputs)