Praise for President, blame for ISI -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Praise for President, blame for ISI

New York- Although the US administration and the media is all appreciative, sympathetic and worried about President Musharraf’s well being, but it is the ISI which is being targeted in the death of WSJ’s Daniel Pearl.

India’s intelligence apparatus RAW which had the custody for five solid years, specially when the adventure loving British boy grew from 21 to 26 under its tutelage, the RAW must be laughing its guts out.

Daniel Pearl’s heinous death is tragic and cannot be condoned under any pretext. It is imperative that the culprits are given exemplary punishment. But, before coming to a judgement it is necessary that the case and circumstances leading to it are objectively and properly investigated and analysed. The mystery behind Daniel Pearl’s abduction and his killing is getting mired every day that passes.

Who is Ahmad Omar Sheikh? Why all of a sudden he has become the main actor in the drama? Didn’t he surrender himself? Is he telling the truth? Those who have confessed to sending the three e-mails showing Pearl in captivity, are they telling the truth? A score of such questions need to be given thought. Jumping to conclusions in an effort to find where Pearl has been made captive was justifiable, so long his death was not confirmed. But now, when his demise is accepted, although the tape needs to be scientifically analysed lest it may have been doctored, there is all the time to probe, investigate and catch the real criminals. Accepting voluntary confessions on face value may not lead to the hornet’s nest. The investigation venues should also include Mumbai, New Delhi and where ever Sheikh has been since 1994.

The New York Times in its Feb 25 issue traces the history of Ahmed Omar Sheikh and puts focus on ISI. According to the NYT, when, “in October 1994, a gleeful young 21-year-old man, who once studied at the London School of Economics, walked into a house in Saharanpur, north of New Delhi, to tell three British tourists chained to the floor that he had sent authorities an ultimatum: Release a group of Islamic militants from Indian jails, or the hostages will die.”

“We’ve just told the press we’re going to behead you,” said Ahmed Omar Sheikh, as Rhys Partridge, one of the hostages, remembered it. “He was laughing,” Mr Partridge said in a recent interview. “The prospect excited him.”

But, Sheikh’s plans went awry when he was captured by the Indian authorities and his captives released. Sheikh languished for five years in the Indian jail awaiting trial. What treatment was meted out to this young man, born with a silver spoon, while in the Indian prison?

Sheikh was freed, in 1999, along with two other militants, in exchange for more than 160 people aboard an Indian Airlines jet that had been hijacked from Kathmandu, Nepal to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Surprisingly, no body is talking of the other two culprits who were a party to Sheikh. In fact at that time Sheikh was hardly known and it was Maulana Masood Azhar, who had made headlines.

Mr Partridge, one of the hostage, according to the NYT, was aghast now and said that, “I made it very apparent to anyone who would listen that he would continue to do this kind of stuff. I got to know the guy and I got to know his agenda (how?), and he would take hostages again. He would murder people, given the opportunity.”

It is now being told, according to The Indian Express that in 1994, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, was charged with abducting four tourists in India. And The Indian Express also adds that, “questions are being raised about possible ties between the kidnapping suspect Ahmed Omar Sheikh, seen in an Indian hospital in 1994, and Pakistani intelligence.” How come it was possible for the ISI to contact Sheikh in an Indian hospital, with maximum security? Is it an after thought to divert attention and malign arch rival Pakistan?

Another important aspect that remains unnoticed is that Mr Jaswant Singh, Indian Foreign Minister, had personally travelled to Kandahar along with Ahmad Omar Sheikh and the other two who were to be set free by India in exchange of the passengers.

According to the NYT: The Indian foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, who accompanied Mr Sheikh and two other militants to Kandahar, Afghanistan, now told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo last week that “Omar was allowed to live peacefully in Pakistan till he kidnapped another American. But I do not want to sound bitter.”

It is not a matter of tit-for-tat, but why nobody is asking Mr Jaswant Singh, a former Indian army man, as to what inducements were given to the culprits during the five years they were in the Indian custody and what did transpire between him and Sheikh when travelling from New Delhi to Kandahar. Such a quick acceptance of kidnappers’ demands is hardly accepted by governments.

We are told by the NYT, based on information provided by the Indian officials that, “in prison, Mr Sheikh met Mr Azhar, the man he had hoped to free.” What a coincidence?

“Indian officials say the two men were in Tihar prison for almost two years. “They became thick friends in Tihar,” said an Indian intelligence officer who interviewed both men. “Masood Azhar would use religion as a tool to influence people,” he said. “But this fellow Omar Sheikh was a very sharp boy. He studied a mind and thought how he could manipulate you. He didn’t use religion.”

Why did Indian intelligence allowed the two militants to be kept in one prison but had free access to each other? Was it a lapse on the part of Indian intelligence or a well laid plan?

As early as January 2000, Azhar formed a new group, the Jaish-i-Muhammad. Mr Azhar’s high-profile role soon ran a foul of Pakistani authorities, particularly General Musharraf, who had taken power in late 1999. By December 2001, Azhar was under house arrest.

Then there was President Musharraf, who indicated a linkage in Pearl’s kidnapping and India. It was also revealed by the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr Abdul Sattar, while in Bonn that the abductors had made calls to Indian high-ups on cellular telephone. One wonders, why the foreign minister had not accompanied President Musharraf when he visited the US and now he is no longer visible.

All praise is for President Musharraf for his courageous stand. President Bush Monday told reporters that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf assured him in a phone call last week that Pakistan would “chase down the killers and bring them to justice.”

“I could tell from the tone of his voice how distraught he was, how disturbed he was, that this barbaric act had taken place in his country,” Mr Bush said. “He knew full well that those killers did not represent the vast, vast majority of the people in his own country.”

When asked whether the United States hopes to extradite Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is being held as a suspect in the Pearl case, the President said: “Yes, we’re always interested in dealing with people who have harmed American citizens.” In fact, Sheikh’s extradition is a matter of time.

President Pervez Musharraf, has vowed to prosecute everyone involved, but according to the NYT, “an inquiry that could well raise the lid on one of the more unsavoury chapters in this country’s recent history: the ties between radical groups and Pakistan’s main intelligence service.”

The NYT claims that “Pakistani military and intelligence officials with knowledge of the events disclosed that a Pakistani intelligence officer – Brigadier Abdullah – played a key role in nurturing the Jaish-i- Muhammad after its formation in 2000 and also helped facilitate Mr Sheikh’s frequent travels between Afghanistan and Pakistan, his ancestral home. But Brigadier Abdullah was pushed aside late last year as President Musharraf began his shake-up of ISI.

The NYT suggests that, “the intelligence agency’s past actions indicate that its interests – or, at a minimum, those of former agency officials – have dovetailed with the interests of Mr Pearl’s kidnappers, as reflected in their original demands. New disclosures of links between Mr Sheikh and two recently dismissed agency officials only intensify suspicions about the its role in this case.”

Describing ISI, the NYT states: “The intelligence agency came to prominence during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, when it served as the CIA’s paymaster, funnelling billions of dollars in covert aid to the Afghan fighter. More recently, it has been the main instrument of Pakistan’s covert policies in the region, cultivating close ties with the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and with radical groups in Kashmir.

“When Mr Sheikh was freed from an Indian prison in 1999, he and two other freed prisoners became affiliated with the newly minted group, the Jaish-i-Muhammad. It was one of several groups with close links to Pakistani intelligence, particularly to Brigadier Abdullah, who headed Inter-Services Intelligence’s Kashmir department.”

The NYT also discloses that, “Two days before the kidnapping of Mr Pearl, the American Ambassador in Islamabad asked Pakistan to hand over Mr Sheikh in connection with the 1994 kidnapping, in which an American was also held captive. Before Pakistan did anything, Mr Pearl was abducted.”

A delicate question arises as to why the US asked for Sheikh’s extradition just two days before Pearl’s abduction and not earlier, when Sheikh was already indicted in the US by a grand jury in 2001.
One may also ask, who had made ISI Pakistan’s most influential political and foreign policy force, during 1980s.?

Surprisingly, it is Indian intelligence which keeps Sheikh under surveillance in Pakistan and know all his movements. According to the NYT, “he was spotted by Indian intelligence on a number of occasions, according to senior Indian officials, including once in early 2001, at a bookstore in Islamabad. The Indian officials say they believe that he travelled frequently, with his new wife and infant son, to Lahore, where his parents had been born and relatives still lived.”

The NYT admits “the Military Intelligence Branch, then headed by Lt Gen Ehsanul Haq, had urged caution in allowing Mr Sheikh to return, fearing that his years in an Indian jail might have turned him into an enemy agent.”

According to the NYT, “Sheikh’s growing profile among militants did not go unnoticed in the West. A year ago, the American and British governments seemed interested in taking him out of circulation, or so Rhys Partridge and Bela Nuss, two of the 1994 hostages, say they were told when they were questioned by British and FBI agents.”

The FBI agents indicated to the NYT that, “the former hostages would be giving evidence to a grand jury in the United States last spring, but then backed off, saying they were not needed.” President Musharraf is doing all that he can do to prove his honest intentions: he is cracking down on militants, ISI had a major purge.

In an interview, the American Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, went out of her way to praise Pakistan for leading the effort to find those responsible for Mr Pearl’s abduction and murder. “Cooperation has been extremely good, and the Pakistani authorities are showing much aggressiveness as we proceed,” she said on last Friday. State Department officials in Washington echoed that sentiment.

But to the NYT, “The overlapping of the crackdown, the intelligence purge, and Mr Pearl’s murder have added to the mystery surrounding the crime, including the question of whether it might have been carried out with the knowledge or support of current or former Pakistani intelligence officials.”

In a strange twist, there appears to be a North American connection to the gruesome execution of Daniel Pearl. A few days before Pearl disappeared on January 23, one of the most wanted suspects in the kidnapping, Amjad Hussain Farooqi, allegedly made a call to Canada from his home village in Punjab and was overheard saying, ‘’I will complete the mission.’’

Two Pakistani sources close to the investigation confirmed that Farooqi made that call to Canada before the kidnapping and several others after Pearl’s abduction. One source said police obtained details of the ‘’complete the mission’’ conversation from a man who operates public telephones from his shop in the settlement of Pir Mahal.

Other sources said that Pearl’s slayers are now thought to have taken marching orders from outside Pakistan, possibly from al Qaeda network, which has tentacles in scores of violence-prone movements in Asia, Africa, the Mideast, and Europe, as well as Canada and the United States.

Why not from India, some sceptics ask? Daniel Pearl came from Mumbai, India to Karachi, where of all the people he had to come in contact with Omar Sheikh, trusts him so much that does not take any precaution of informing anybody as to with whim and where he is going. There is much more than what the eyes see.
Source: The Nation