FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Who Really Killed Daniel Pearl?

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.

Tariq Ali is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. HIs latest book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, is published by Verso.

More articles by:

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail