Pakistan Reader# 150, 7 February 2021
D. Suba Chandran
Last week, two important developments happened in Pakistan. On 27 January, Pakistan’s Defence Ministry negatively responded to Lt Gen Asad Durrani’s request that his name be removed from the Exit Control List (ECL), that prevents him from visiting abroad. According to the Defence minsistry, Lt Gen Durrani’s name was placed in the ECL for "his involvement in anti-state activities".
On 28 January, the Supreme Court in a shocking verdict asked the Sindh government to release those who were accused of the kidnapping and murder in 2002 of Daniel Pearl, the bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. The Sindh government has filed a review petition, requesting the Supreme Court to revisit the case. Internationally, the responses have been shocking on the development; the US State Department came down heavily.
The Case against Lt Gen Durrani
Lt Gen Asad Durrani, a former Director-General of the ISI (1990-91) and Director General of the Military Intelligence (1988-99), and later Pakistan's Ambassador to Germany and Saudi Arabia, never would have thought, he would be placed in the Exit Control List (ECL) of Pakistan. The ECL prevents an individual from leaving the country; and that is precisely what the Defence Ministry of Pakistan wants to do now with Gen Durrani, on charges of "interacting with hostile elements."
Gen Durrani's offence was co-authoring a book titled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with an India – Mr AS Dulat; the latter was head of India's RAW during 1999-2000. After retirement, Dulat also served as an advisor on J&K in the Prime Minister Officer. Later, both Dulat and Durrani became a part of numerous Indo-Pak Track-II dialogues organised by various institutions within the region and outside. These dialogues took place in various venues from Dubai to Bangkok; people from various fields from military to media took part in these dialogues.
Unfortunately, Gen Durrani is being singled out inside Pakistan. Other senior officers from police, military and bureaucracy, and former Ambassadors took place in these dialogues. While not all of them have written, there were occasional joint writings. But none have elicited the response that the book by Durrani and Dulat has. According to a Dawn report, "After the book's publication, the Military Intelligence (MI) had written to the interior ministry to put Durrani's name on the ECL and the same was done in May 2018." Gen Durrani was summoned in 2018 by the GHQ following the above book. The DG-ISPR tweeted: "Lt Gen Asad Durrani, Retired being called in GHQ on 28th May 18. Will be asked to explain his position on views attributed to him in book 'Spy Chronicles'. Attribution taken as violation of Military Code of Conduct applicable on all serving and retired military personnel."
Why should the Establishment target only Gen Durrani? What about the other military and police officials who have also interacted with the Indians in various Track-II dialogues? This contradicts what Pakistan says in public – that it wants to have a dialogue with India.
Releasing Daniel Pearl’s killer
On 27 January 2021, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the authorities to release the primary accused – Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh in the case of brutal beheading of Daniel Pearl in February 2002. Pearl was a journalist with the Wall Street Journal, when he was kidnapped in Karachi, and subsequently beheaded, his body cut into multiple pieces. Omar Sheikh has been accused of his kidnapping, which even he had agreed. Omar Sheikh, was a British citizen, born to Pakistani parents who had migrated in the late 1960s. Despite getting an admission in the prestigious London School of Economics, Omar Sheikh got radicalized, after his tours to Bosnia in early 1990s. He was caught by the Indian security forces, and was serving a prison sentence, when he was released following the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kabul in 1999.
Why was Omar Sheikh asked to be release by India? Who asked for his release, in return to the release of Indian Airlines flight and the passengers? How did he end up in Karachi? And what was his connection to Daniel Pearl? Since Sheikh himself has agreed (a three page letter that he wrote in 2019) that he had a limited or minor role in Pearl’s killing, how limited or minor was that role?
The above questions should have been probed and proved without any doubt. Unfortunately, the investigation and the trial could not satisfy the learned Sindh High Court on Omar Sheikh’s involvement. In 2020, the Sindh High Court asked the government to release Sheikh, for his role in the beheading could not be proved. The case went to the Supreme Court, which has today ordered for the release of Omar Sheikh.
Investigation has been one of the primary problems inside Pakistan, that has let many accused go free – whether in social crimes, gender violence and acts relating to terrorism. One of the primary question that the FATF also has raised is the quality of investigation.
Omar Sheikh’s release should open more questions, that solving any.