Risks Mount for Reporters Covering War on Terrorism ; the Alleged Abduction of a US Journalist in Pakistan Highlights Daily Dangers

Article excerpt

The alleged kidnapping last week of American journalist Daniel Pearl near the Pakistani city of Karachi underscores a point that most reporters would rather forget: the dangers of doing their job.

Mr. Pearl, the Bombay-based South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was last seen on Wednesday after a taxi dropped him off at a Karachi hotel for an interview with the head of the Islamist militant group Tanzeem-ul-Fuqra.

While the details are unclear, many journalists are taking a second look at the risks they take - and who they trust as they report on the US-led war on terrorism.

"I'm sure every journalist in the region is thinking about what kind of stories they do and the people they work with," says Kavita Menon, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York. But playing it safe does not make for good journalism, she adds. "If a journalist is forced to rely on official sources for their information, then what kind of information are we getting. After all, the Pakistani intelligence agencies are notorious for misinformation."

War correspondents may carry the baggage of a romantic job title, but in truth, most reporters head to the front lines reluctantly.

In most cases, they rely heavily on local translators or local journalists to guide them through unfamiliar and dangerous territory, whether on the front lines of Kabul or Srebrenica, or in the back alleys of Karachi or Jakarta.

It is there - where radical movements take form and alliances shift by the minute - that trust in one's companions is the most important commodity.

When Pearl disappeared, he had been scheduled to interview Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, the head Tanzeem-ul-Fuqra.

Three days later, the New York Times and the Washington Post received an e-mail message from a hitherto unknown group called the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, accusing Pearl of being an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. The e-mail contained a list of demands and photos of Pearl in shackles, with a 9-mm pistol pointed at his head.

Pakistani police say they are making progress in tracking his last known movements and are now picking up leads as to his whereabouts. They are also looking for Mr. Gilani. Yesterday, police in Lahore reportedly detained his son, Shafat Ali Shah.

Some police officials believe Pearl is being held by the Harkat ul-Mujahideen, which fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and is on the US list of banned terrorist organizations. …