11 March 2002

Dateline Islamabad: Was Daniel Pearl on to something?

Skeletons Rattle in Pakistan's Closet

Was Pearl Onto Something?

Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl in an undated photo (AFP)

Islamabad: What did Gen. Pervez Musharraf mean when he said that Daniel Pearl—the Wall Street Journal correspondent who was kidnapped and killed by extremists in Pakistan—had been overly intrusive in areas he shouldn’t have been? The remark was vintage Musharraf, delivered off-the-cuff during an impromptu press conference here Thursday. “Unfortunately,” he said, “(Pearl) got over-involved.” But what exactly had Pearl got himself “over-involved” in?

Though he was said to be working on a story about the Pakistani linkages of Richard Reid—the shoe bomber who was overpowered by passengers on a U.S.-bound flight in December—many local journalists feel Pearl had stumbled across information that might have embarrassed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. “We can only presume he came close to finding out the roots of some people with the ISI,” said a senior columnist for [Karachi’s] Urdu Daily Jang. “There were 3,000 Western journalists who worked in or passed through Pakistan during the U.S. war on Afghanistan,” said one editor of a daily newspaper. “Why was he the one picked up? It is possible he had come across some information about a few of the persons on India’s list of 20 terrorists. Persons such as [Indian crime lord who is in hiding in Pakistan] Dawood Ibrahim, for example.” He pointed out that the first time an exposé on Dawood’s Karachi links was published in the Pakistani magazine The Herald, the ISI picked up and interrogated two journalists, Ghulam Hasnain and Amir Ahmed Khan, to find out the source of their story.

Though Pakistani analysts doubt that Pearl’s kidnapping had official sanction, they say the investigation will likely proceed “cautiously.” “I am not saying there will be a cover-up,” said one senior journalist. “But Pakistan’s past policies (regarding the extremist groups) have left a large number of skeletons. Once you begin investigating, you will start opening all kinds of doors.”

Even though they had nothing to do with Pearl’s kidnapping, many people within the ruling establishment would not like matters to be probed very deeply, he said. One noted Pakistani commentator told The Times of India that the manner in which Omar Sheikh, the prime suspect in the Pearl kidnapping, came into police custody itself spoke of these linkages. “He wasn’t arrested. Rather, he turned himself in to the one man he trusted enormously, Punjab Home Secretary Brig. Ijaz Shah, who is a retired ISI man.”

And what was Omar’s connection with Ijaz Shah? “Please re-read the diary Omar Sheikh wrote when he was in prison in India. It is full of adulatory references to the man who inspired him. And that man’s name was Shah Sahab.”

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