The Pakistan Supreme Court’s recent order to let the prime accused in the beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 walk free from prison has understandably left the Biden administration furious. That the UK-born Pakistani national Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is an international terrorist India was forced to free from jail in exchange for hostages of the hijacked IC814 flight in 1999 is no secret.
His deep network with Pakistan’s military and intelligence elite as also with slain Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is well documented. And his funding of 9/11 conspirators is beyond any shadow of doubt. His potential for igniting conflict is well known.
For example, while in jail in 2008, he tried to impersonate India’s then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee by making a hoax call to Pakistan’s then President Asif Zardari and threatened him with war, hoping it would snowball. Yet, when the Bench sought justification for his continued incarceration, Pakistan’s attorney general couldn’t furnish any.
In a country that uses terror as an instrument of state policy, expecting the A-G to unravel Omar Sheikh’s symbiotic links with the Deep State was anyway not expected. The then ISI chief is a minister in the Imran Khan cabinet. But by failing to build a convincing case to keep the jihadi asset-turned-liability in prison, Pakistan now finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
The question before the court was whether Omar Sheikh actually beheaded Pearl. Convicted at the trial stage for the execution and awarded capital punishment, his sentence was first commuted to life and later slashed to seven years, going by his claim of a small role in the abduction of Pearl. The Sindh High Court ordered his release as he has already served time, which is how the appeal went to the Supreme Court.
Pakistan generally wriggles out of such situations by spinning them as the independence of the judiciary—its ruse to explain the slow trial in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case—but was caught by the scruff of its neck now as the US wants the terrorist’s custody for retrial. It remains to be seen how Imran will negotiate that landmine. Merchants of death don’t deserve freedom.