Pearl was probing spy agencies' role

Lahore |By Abdullah Iqbal | 25-03-2002

While U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl had in general told people, who came into contact with him in the days prior to his abduction and murder, that he was completing a story on shoe-bomb terrorist Richard Reid, there is now increased evidence that he was also looking at far more sensitive matters.

Some of those who had spoken to Pearl during his stay in Karachi believe that his main interest was in looking into the links between certain agencies in Pakistan with religious militancy. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the most powerful agency in the country, had also received Pearl's attention during this investigation.

In fact, at least one journalist who met Pearl in Islamabad had advised him to be "very careful" while pursuing his particular line of inquiry. Two other journalists, approached to act as local resource persons for Pearl, had apparently turned down the offer because "what Pearl wanted to get at was difficult to obtain and touched in several very sensitive areas."

There are also sources who insist that General Pervez Musharraf was also aware, though it is not certain at which stage, of the line of inquiry being followed by Pearl.

While some sources say Musharraf knew of this only after the abduction, others say "intelligence reports" about the kind of questions Pearl was asking had reached him before the sudden disappearance of the newsman.

It is also rumoured that Pearl was in fact especially interested in any role played by the U.S. in training the ISI or backing it in any way, especially during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

"Details of any U.S.-ISI cooperation would of course not be appreciated even in Washington, especially regarding U.S. cooperation in promoting any kind of Islamic militancy," stated a source close to the Pakistan foreign office.

It may be noted that Pearl was known in New York, where the newspaper he worked for, The Wall Street Journal is based, as a reporter willing to expose U.S. involvement in matters of some embarrassment for the government in Washington.

One of his last major stories for instance had focussed on the fact that some of the atrocities allegedly committed in Kosovo may have been "fabricated" with Western forces aware of this, even as the international media was informed about the war crimes carried out.

Other stories had also been in many cases equally radical. "Pearl was clearly a determined kind of guy. He had some very interesting facts in his knowledge, possibly provided by Indian intelligence and he was not willing to take hints suggesting that he proceed with caution," said one officer who works with a premier intelligence agency.

It is now believed that such hints had been delivered to Pearl through local journalists, who are usually well-aware of the need to steer clear of dangerous territory. Indeed, it is also thought that Pearl rented a house in Karachi rather than putting up at a hotel, because he wanted "complete privacy" while meeting certain people.

The question of precisely what story Pearl was looking into have drawn more attention after the events that followed.

It is also rumoured that Pearl's wife provided some details to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but was not aware of the whole picture. Whether this entire picture will ever emerge is a question that remains open, with the investigation into Pearl's death having apparently reached what seems like a near total dead-end and work on the matter "slowing down" according to police officials involved in the case.