Who really killed Daniel Pearl?
By Tariq Ali* in Lehore
The US is ignoring evidence of links with Pakistan's secret service
It has been a stunningly beautiful spring in Pakistan. But the surface calm is deceptive. When the war in Afghanistan began, I suggested that the Taliban would
be rapidly defeated and that the "jihadi" organisations and their patrons would
regroup in Pakistan and, sooner or later, start punishing General Musharraf's
regime. This process is now under way.
In recent months, the jihadis have scored three big hits: the kidnapping and brutal
murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl; the assassination of the
interior minister's brother; and the bombing of a church in the heart of Islamabad's
tightly protected diplomatic enclave. There have also been targeted killings of
professionals in Karachi: more than a dozen doctors belonging to the Shi'a
minority have been shot.
All these acts were designed as a warning to Pakistan's military ruler: if you go too
far in accommodating Washington, your head will also roll. Some senior
journalists believe an attempt on Musharraf's life has already taken place. Are
these acts of terrorism actually carried out by hardline groups such as
Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkatul Ansar, which often claim them? Probably, but
these groups are only a shell. Turn them upside down and the rational kernel is
revealed in the form of Pakistan's major intelligence agency - the Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI), whose manipulation of them has long been clear.
Those sections of the ISI who patronised and funded these organisations were
livid at "the betrayal of the Taliban". Being forced to unravel the only victory they
had ever scored - the Taliban takeover in Kabul - created enormous tensions
inside the army. Unless this background is appreciated, the terrorism shaking the
country today is inexplicable.
Colin Powell's statement of March 3, exonerating the ISI from any responsibility
for Pearl's disappearance and murder, is shocking. Few in Pakistan believe such
assurances. Musharraf was not involved, but he must know what took place. He
has referred to Pearl as an "over- intrusive journalist" caught up in "intelligence
games". Has he told Washington what he knows? And if so, why did Powell
absolve the ISI?
The Pearl tragedy has shed some light on the darker recesses of the intelligence
networks. Pearl was a gifted, independent-minded investigative journalist. On
previous assignments he had established that the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory
- bombed on Clinton's orders - was exactly that and not a shady installation
producing biological and chemical weapons, as alleged by the White House.
Subsequently, he wrote extensively on Kosovo, questioning some of the atrocity
stories dished out by Nato spin-doctors to justify the war on Yugoslavia.
Pearl was never satisfied with official briefings or chats with approved local
journalists. Those he was in touch with in Pakistan say he was working to
uncover links between the intelligence services and terrorism. His newspaper has
been remarkably coy, refusing to disclose the leads Pearl was pursuing.
Any western journalist visiting Pakistan is routinely watched and followed. The
notion that Daniel Pearl, setting up contacts with extremist groups, was not being
carefully monitored by the secret services is unbelievable - and nobody in
Pakistan believes it.
The group which claimed to have kidnapped and killed Pearl - "The National
Youth Movement for the Sovereignty of Pakistan" - is a confection. One of its
demands was unique: the resumption of F-16 sales to Pakistan. A terrorist, jihadi
group which supposedly regards the current regime as treacherous is putting
forward a 20-year-old demand of the military and state bureaucracy.
The principal kidnapper, the former LSE student Omar Saeed Sheikh - whose trial
begins in Karachi today - has added to the mystery. He carelessly condemned
himself by surrendering to the provincial home secretary (a former ISI operative)
on February 5. Sheikh is widely believed in Pakistan to be an experienced ISI
"asset" with a history of operations in Kashmir. If he was extradited to
Washington and decided to talk, the entire story would unravel. His family are
fearful. They think he might be tried by a summary court and executed to prevent
the identity of his confederates being revealed.
So mysterious has this affair become that one might wonder who is really running
Pakistan. Official power is exercised by General Musharraf. But it is clear that his
writ does not extend to the whole state apparatus, let alone the country. If a
military regime cannot guarantee law and order, what can it hope to deliver?
Meanwhile, Daniel Pearl's widow is owed an explanation by her own state
department and the general in Islamabad. [The Guardian - 5 April]
· Tariq Ali's latest book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, is published by Verso