Murder Puts Focus On Ties Between Pakistan's Spy Agency, Extremists

by Jan Cienski
The National Post [Canadian newspaper]
February 26, 2002

WASHINGTON - Daniel Pearl was in Karachi, Pakistan, to detail links between local Islamic militants and international terrorism, but his killing is helping unmask the tangled relationship among Muslim fundamentalists, terrorists and Pakistan's powerful spy agency.

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's President, has promised to hunt down all those responsible for The Wall Street Journal reporter's death, an investigation that could shed some embarrassing light on the actions of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

"I think it's very likely that at least some rogue ISI elements were involved there," said Glynn Wood, an analyst with the Monterey Institute of International Studies .

The ISI has already been under close scrutiny by the U.S. government for its support of the Taliban, its involvement in the fighting in the disputed region of Kashmir, its links with Osama bin Laden and for apparently clearing out its own intelligence agents and many Islamic radicals before the Afghan city of Kunduz fell to pro-U.S. forces late last year. On top of that, recent U.S. intelligence assessments indicate bin Laden may still be alive and hiding out in Pakistan.

The ISI, which has been called a "state within a state" by some commentators, was long in charge of Pakistan's policy toward Afghanistan and Kashmir. In the process the agency, estimated to have at least 10,000 officers and staff, became thoroughly contaminated with Islamic radicalism.

Although the ISI was used to operating with no government oversight, Gen. Musharraf tightened the reins after the Indian Parliament was attacked by Muslim radicals in December, an incident that almost set off a war between the two old enemies.

The ISI was not directly implicated in the attacks, but it has long supported the guerrilla groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e Taiba, which were blamed for the Dec. 13 assault.

Last month, Gen. Musharraf announced a crackdown on radical Islamic groups, arresting as many as 2,000 people, and began the reorganization of the ISI.

Its commander, General Mahmood Ahmed, who was emotionally and ethnically linked to Afghanistan's Taliban, was removed and replaced by a Musharraf loyalist, General Ehsanul Haq.

Gen. Musharraf shuttered the ISI's Afghan desk, which, with CIA assistance, had helped run the mujahedeen campaign against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and which had helped the Taliban to power in the 1990s. He downgraded the ISI's Kashmir office, demanding that it do nothing more than report on political conditions there.

Gen. Musharraf is also planning on cutting the ISI's personnel by as much as 40%.

The reaction was not long in coming and many analysts feel Mr. Pearl provided a perfect target -- a Jewish-American reporter whose death would anger the United States and hugely embarrass Gen. Musharraf.

The first suspicion the kidnappers may have military links came in its demands, which included the release of jet fighters bought by Pakistan but embargoed by the United States.

As Pakistani authorities began working the case, their attention naturally gravitated toward Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born Islamic radical who had spent time in Indian jails for kidnapping Western tourists before being released in 1999 in exchange for more than 150 people aboard a hijacked Indian Airlines plane.

Pakistani police said they arrested Mr. Saeed on Feb. 12, and he quickly admitted to being behind Mr. Pearl's kidnapping and said the American reporter was already dead.

It later emerged that Mr. Saeed had actually turned himself in to a retired ISI officer on Feb. 5, after local police rounded up most of his relatives and threatened to arrest his wife, leaving his baby son with no one to care for him.

It is unclear whether the police were lying about their Feb. 12 arrest or whether the ISI refused to tell them they had Mr. Saeed. It is also not clear why the spy agency held onto him while the rest of the country was searching for Mr. Pearl.

Some investigators charge the delay helped Mr. Saeed's co-conspirators flee after killing Mr. Pearl.

Although Pakistan has long denied it, Mr. Saeed was a frequent visitor to his ancestral home of Lahore, where he met with General Mohammad Aziz Khan, a former deputy director of the ISI in charge of operations in India and Afghanistan, according to B. Raman, director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai, India.

Gen. Khan helped forge ties between the ISI and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Army of Mohammed, to which Mr. Saeed belonged and which trained alongside bin Laden's al-Qaeda fighters before going off to battle Indians in Kashmir.

In a further possible tie between intelligence agencies and Mr. Pearl, one of the four men now under arrest in connection with his death is Sheikh Mohammad Adeel, a constable with the Karachi police department's anti-terrorist special branch.

The apparent links between Mr. Pearl's kidnapping and the ISI are a warning to Gen. Musharraf of the dangers he faces in cleaning up an agency that had been allowed to run riot for two decades.

Even so, analysts feel there is little chance the ISI could overthrow Gen. Musharraf, who seized power himself in a 1999 coup, because he has the strong backing of the regular military as well as the ISI's new chief.

"Musharraf's strong point is that the army has never had a coup against itself," said Mr. Wood. "But pulling the ISI's teeth won't be easy."

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