Amsterdam [Netherlands], April 4 (ANI): While the United States continue to raise an outcry over the 2002 grisly murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Pakistan has successfully overturned the 18-year old verdict and reduced the death sentence of main accused Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh to seven years just days ago.
But what led Pakistan to release Omar Sheikh after 18 years in prison?A British national of Pakistani origin, Sheikh was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan by hanging for Pearl's abduction and murder in 2002, along with other three who received life imprisonment.
But the Sindh High Court overturned the 2002 judgement recently- on April 2, and converted the death sentence of Sheikh into seven-year imprisonment, 18 long years after his appeal was initially filed. The court also acquitted three other co-accused in the case.
Sheikh, born into a wealthy family in London, attended public schools there that catered to the progeny of the affluent and later went on to enroll at the London School of Economics. While studying there, he went off to Bosnia in 1992, at the peak of the Bosnian war, ostensibly to coordinate relief efforts for Muslims, EFSAS, a Netherland-based think tank said in a detailed report.
He arrived in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1994, and joined the Harkat-ul Ansar (HuA), which was subsequently renamed Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM) after the US banned the HuA in the mid-1990s.
He later returned to Britain to drop his dual Pakistani and British nationality for a British one in order to get an Indian visa. He was infiltrated by HuM into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with the instructions to kidnap western tourists for ransom.
During one such attempt involving the kidnapping of an American and three British backpackers, Sheikh was apprehended and incarcerated by Indian security forces. However, such was his value for his actual handlers, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in particular, that it not only paid for Sheikh's legal fees when he was under arrest in India but also played a key role in securing his release.
According to media reports, after his return to Pakistan in March 2002, Sheikh joined Masood Azhar's Kashmir-focused terrorist group, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and "lived openly - and opulently - in a wealthy Lahore neighbourhood.
American sources say that he did little to hide his connections to terrorist organizations, and even attended swanky parties attended by senior Pakistani government officials".
Newsweek added that "The US government inferred that he was a 'protected asset' of the ISI," the report said.
Media reports also outlined Sheikh's involvement with the 9/11 attacks in the US and his hands in devising a secure, encrypted web-based communications system for Al Qaeda.
In January 2002, Sheikh came into contact with Pearl, who was then working on an investigation about terror groups' links to Al Qaeda. Within a few days, a video of Pearl's cold-blooded decapitation was sent to the US Consulate in Karachi.
Sheikh had turned himself into police on February 12, 2002, but he told a court in Karachi that he had first surrendered to the ISI one week earlier in Lahore. What took place during his time with the ISI is however not known, but Pearl's family believed that Saeed's association with the ISI appeared to be "protecting" him.
How important Sheikh was in the ISI's scheme of things is clear from the foregoing.
"Two consequent fundamental issues, however, are not as obvious. The first relates to why, despite enjoying the full blessings and support of the ISI, did Sheikh have to undergo 18 long years of incarceration, even if it had been revealed along the way that he enjoyed considerable freedoms including to direct operations in the outside world from his prison cell. The second is why the ISI choose this particular moment to nudge the court to deliver a verdict favourable to Sheikh," the report stated.
The public outrage in the period following Pearl's killing and the consequent relentless US pressure on Pakistan to act against the culprits had left the ISI with very little leeway. In addition to being under the pressure of acting against terror networks operating on Pakistani soil, the agency recognized that it could not get away with something that would purely and obviously be an eyewash, the think-tank added.
Furthermore, Donald Trump's policies in recent days of using Pakistan to deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table at a time when the US President desperately wanted to pull out of Afghanistan--a promise he had made four years ago before taking over the reins, have emboldened the military establishment to take some liberties of entrusting fresh terrorists to Kashmir. It is obvious that the establishment has never in the last several decades been as much at a loss on how to further its JK agenda as it has been since August 2019 since India revoked the special status of the region that has cut off Pakistan from its separatist and terrorist proxies in the Valley.
"Whether the ISI is clutching at straws by burdening the 46-year old Sheikh, just out after spending 18 years in prison, with its rather unrealistic expectations, or whether Sheikh will actually live up to the ISI's expectations and emulate the likes of Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar and Syed Salahuddin, to name a few, only time will tell," the think-tank said in the report.
Meanwhile, the Sindh HC, in its 2002 judgment had ruled that there was sufficient evidence against Sheikh in Pearl's abduction but not his killing.
American officials have said they believe Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accused of masterminding the attacks of September 11, 2001, himself carried out Pearl's murder.
The provincial government of Sindh will file an appeal against the April 2 court ruling in the Supreme Court next week. (ANI)