Kidnapping to harm Islamic groups -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Kidnapping to harm Islamic groups

PESHAWAR- About 20 days ago, The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was visiting Peshawar and planning a trip to Afghanistan. But on January 23, he was kidnapped in Karachi and his still unidentified kidnappers are now threatening to kill him. The young Pearl, accompanied by his wife Marianne, had visited my home during his stay in Peshawar. The couple wanted to discuss a host of issues, ranging from the happenings in Afghanistan to the crackdown by President General Pervez Musharraf’s government on radical Islamic groups in Pakistan.

They were also curious whether any Taliban leaders who may have crossed over to Pakistan after collapse of their regime in Afghanistan would be willing to meet them. I told Pearl and Marianne that some Taliban leaders may be hiding in Pakistan but it was impossible to meet them. Such a meeting would make public their presence in Pakistan, cause embarrassment to the Musharraf regime and intensify the hunt by Pakistani law-enforcing agencies and the US military for any Taliban or al-Qaeda officials hiding in the country.

It was my first meeting with Pearl but I found him a very curious and determined reporter. He asked most of the questions while his wife Marianne, a French freelance journalist, occasionally interjected during our conversation. They were a nice couple and did nothing to arouse my suspicion that they weren’t journalists.

In fact, Pearl’s kidnappers too are finding it difficult to justify their allegation that he was a spy. First, they claimed he was a CIA man and later accused him of being an agent of Mossad, the Israeli secret service. I still have Pearl’s visiting card and it says he is the Mumbai-based South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal and I believe him.

The so-called National Movement for Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty has neither promoted its cause nor harmed the US government by kidnapping Pearl. A defenceless journalist who wields a pen shouldn’t be equated with a gun-totting American soldier. In fact, this movement or any other that is behind Pearl’s kidnapping has lost the sympathies of the people by committing this senseless act.

Murdering Pearl would serve no purpose because his kidnapping isn’t going to force the US government to release Pakistanis under its custody or the former Taliban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef. The US would agree to improve its treatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners being inhumanely held at the Guantanamo Bay on account of criticism by its Western allies and the international press and not because such a demand has come from Pearl’s kidnappers.

Pearl’s kidnapping has caused embarrassment to the government of General Pervez Musharraf. Not only has the kidnapping focused attention on the question of the US role in shaping Pakistani policies, it has also exposed the shortcomings in tackling crime and tracking down criminals. The world would henceforth be taking a hard look at the ability of the military regime to keep the Islamic and Jihadi groups under check.

However, President General Musharraf can use the incident on the eve of his forthcoming visit to the US to tell his hosts and the world that he deserves every support in his risky job to control the activities of the radical Islamists. One is sure Pearl’s kidnapping wouldn’t scare away international journalists, including Americans, from covering Pakistan. In fact, reporters need to use Pakistan as a stopover on their way to Afghanistan, which is still a major story for the Western media due to the involvement of the US and European soldiers engaged in the so-called war on terrorism in the war-ravaged country.

Journalists are fond of adventure and are happy to report from places such as Pakistan where there is never a dearth of stories. Even now there are a number of foreign reporters working in Pakistan and more would be planning to come here. Pearl’s kidnapping is an isolated incident and writers who are already describing Pakistan as a dangerous place to work shouldn’t rush into judgement. There were almost 2,000 foreign journalists in Pakistan before and after October 7 last year when the US started its aerial strikes in Afghanistan and none of them was kidnapped or even harassed during their prolonged stay here.

Pearl’s kidnappers should respond to the many calls for his release and free him in a bid to win the world’s sympathy for their cause. They should listen to two popular Muslim converts, singer Cat Stevens now called Yousaf Islam and boxer Cassius Clay who became Mohammad Ali. They should pay heed to international journalists, including many from Islamic and Arab backgrounds, who urged Pearl’s release in an appeal released through the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Not releasing Pearl unconditionally would only antagonise journalists the world over and eventually harm the cause of Islamic groups.

Source: The News
Date:2/4/2002