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America At War:
Live From Pakistan

With Molly Moore
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002; Noon EST

A new e-mail from the purported kidnappers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl warned on Wednesday that he would be killed within 24 hours and that other journalists would be targeted if the United States does not meet demands that include releasing Pakistani prisoners held at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Washington Post staff writer Molly Moore is in Islamabad, Pakistan and was online Thursday, Jan. 31 at Noon EST, to discuss Daniel Pearl, the new threat against Western journalists and the scene in Pakistan.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. Molly, thank you for joining us today. We understand the kidnappers have now extended the deadline for the U.S. to meet demands before carrying out their threat to kill Daniel Pearl.

The kidnappers have also threatened other American journalists in Pakistan and asked them to leave in three days. As an American journalist in Pakistan, do you feel safe? And do you intend to leave the country?

Molly Moore: It's always a pleasure to correspond with your online guests. I don't intend to leave Pakistan. I have worked in Pakistan off and on for the past decade and was the Post correspondent here from 92-95. It has always been a country in which reporters exercised caution when working. I would say we are on heightened alert now, but are continuing to do our jobs as we have done previously.

Bethesda, Md.: As an American journalist in Pakistan, I understand that you're now included in the threat from the group that kidnapped Pearl. But, generally, what is the reaction of most Pakistanis to your presence?

Molly Moore: Hello Bethesda,
Most Pakistanis are extremely hospitable to American journalists working here. But covering extremist Islamic groups here is similar to covering other dangerous organizations. You encounter some unsavory characters. But that should not tar your perceptions of an entire country. This groups represent only a small minority of Pakistanis.

Rockville, Md.: Do journalists working in dangerous countries ever use bodyguards? Is such a practice considered acceptable? If they are not using bodyguards, should they be doing so? In this instance, where a journalist was going to meet someone representing a terrorist organization, would it have made sense to bring a colleague or bodyguard? Thanks for your reply.

Molly Moore: In Afghanistan, we routinely travel with armed guards. In tribal areas of Pakistan the government will not allow foreigners to travel without armed police escorts. It is a common practice in this part of the world. However, in Pakistan's large cities it has not been a necessity. And I don't believe it is now. Usually reporters going into dicey situations here take another reporter or a translator or fixer. I think because there had been no serious incidents inside Pakistan reporters may have gotten a bit lax. But in the wake of Mr. Pearl's abductions reporters are now careful to inform colleagues as to their whereabouts and are not embarking on potentially dangerous interviews alone.

Washington, D.C.: They've given Pearl another day. That a good sign?

Molly Moore: Absolutely, given the alternative. Law enforcement officials here note that Mr. Pearl is far more valuable to the kidnapers if he is kept alive.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Have any reporters/journalist in Pakistan taken the advice of these terrorists and left the country?

Molly Moore: None have left because of this to my knowledge. However, some reporters who have not worked in the region previously and who had been planning to come here have postponed their trips. At this stage reporters aren't leaving, they are just working more prudently. I might add that although the US State Department has issued a travel advisory for Pakistan in the aftermath of the kidnapping, as of Monday they are permitting the families of embassy personnel to return to the country. They were ordered to leave for security reasons shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Chicago, Ill.: Hello Molly,

Pakistan's intelligence is hinting at an Indian connection to this kidnapping. What is your view on it? Is this one more "blame India" from Pakistan?

Molly Moore: Most law enforcement officials here--both Pakistani and western--do not believe India is behind this kidnapping. Pakistan frequently blames India for embarrassing or damaging incidents. On the other hand, it is unclear who is behind it. Whether it be a terrorist group opposed to President Gen. Musharraf's announced crackdown on extremist groups or whether it might involve elements within the Pakistani government. Many of these extremist organizations have had long ties with Pakistani government agencies.

Baltimore, Md.: For those of us not familiar with these groups, are these sort of kidnappings commonplace and do they usually follow through with their threats? Thank you.

Molly Moore: This is the first instance of a western journalist being kidnapped in Pakistan in recent memory. US diplomats and the U.S. embassy compounds here have been the targets of shootings and attacks, but not journalists. In fact, courageous Pakistani journalists have been at far greater risk here in the past than foreign journalists.

Washington, D.C.: What is the Pakistani government's -- and specifically Musharraf's -- response to the kidnapping?

Molly Moore: The official response was issued today: They claimed India is behind the kidnapping. As mentioned previously, many here do not believe that to be the case.

Baltimore, Md.: As an American journalist working in Pakistan, do you wear traditional Islamic dress when outside in order to blend in? Would you consider doing this in light of recent events? Thank you.

Molly Moore: I tend to wear the long tunic and scarves that Pakistani women favor when I am working in rural areas or extremely poor areas of large cities. But in the daily course of business in cities like Islamabad or Karachi it isn't necessary. This has more to do with respecting the conservative cultures of some areas as opposed to safety concerns, however.

Baltimore, Md.D: Musharraf claims that he is doing all he can to find those responsible for the kidnapping, but do you think he has enough loyalty in the ranks to follow through?

Molly Moore: A perceptive question. It's clear some law enforcement agencies here are working very hard to find Mr. Pearl. What is unknown at this point is if any individuals or groups within government agencies may be trying to protect those responsible. We may not know the answer to this question for awhile.

Gullsgate Minn.: Molly Moore: I have just finished Jason Elliot's book on his travels in Afghanistan, "An Unexpected Light" Quite a story coming from the heart of a poet.

I assume you will have a story to tell -- but until then, what book or books on life in Pakistan (with that you-were-there-flavor) would you recommend, somewhat in the spirit of Jason Elliot's wonderful travel tales? And yes, keep safe so we may have the opportunity to read you in hard cover some day soon?

Molly Moore: The Great Game is one of the best books ever written about this region.

Baltimore, Md.D: Have you personally received any threats?

Molly Moore: No, in fact most Pakistanis have been extremely hospitable to me and all the other Post reporters here.

Plano, Tex.: Do you consider Pakistan a safe place, insulated from the remnants of terrorism and fundamentalism? If not, do you think terrorism and fundamentalism will ever recede there? Give us a true picture of what transformation you see since Jan. 12, 2002?

Molly Moore: Pakistan is grappling with a very tough problem. The extremist organizations have been deeply entrenched here for years. And Pakistan is engaged in conflict with India on the disputed Kashmir border. Some of these extremist organizations have been providing the fighters in that conflict. It will be extremely difficult to purge all of these groups from Pakistan. Many of them have strong support in rural conservative areas, so it becomes a question of changing the perceptions of a culture.

Augusta, Ga.: Why does the U.S. persist in trusting the Muslims in Pakistan? Don't they get it that ALL of them are militants in different garb. The ISI rules Pakistan and is militant, Islamic fundamentalist and is the Taliban in sheep's clothing. Americans and America just have to get it and then act with extreme caution not give extortionists like them money.

Molly Moore: I think we saw the results of what U.S. disengagement from this region contributed to in Afghanistan: Al Qaeda hijacked the Taliban government. Because most of the rest of the world ignored Afghanistan, it was far easier for extremist elements to take over. If the United States hopes to have a positive influence in any country, it cannot ignore the country just because it harbors some elements the U.S. government may find not to its liking. The militants and extremists represent a small part of Pakistani society. The entire country, and certainly not its people, should not be written off because of the problems caused by a minority.

Arlington, Va.: What do you know about the group that has taken responsibility for kidnapping Pearl?

Molly Moore: Arlington, we all wish we knew anything about them. Law enforcement authorities here believe the cumbersome name in the kidnappers' e-mails is a fake name disguising who they really are.

Overseas: Hello, Please tell us why hasn't anyone from the White House said a word regarding this kidnapping?. It's not a low key subject, and Mr. Pearl IS a United States citizen. Thank you.

Molly Moore: Sec.of State Colin Powell has discussed the case with the Pakistan President, Gen. Musharraf by telephone this week. The U.S. embassy, FBI and other agencies are extremely involved in the case here in Pakistan.

Baltimore, Md.: Do you think it is effective for Pakistan to outlaw certain extremist groups when they seem to just pop up again with different names in different areas of Pakistan?

Molly Moore: Good question. It's effective to outlaw them only if there is follow-up. We have reported that in fact many of these organizations are merely going underground now that the heat is on, waiting for their moment to resurface in the future.

Arlington, Va.: Do you know why law enforcement officials can not take the e-mails and determine their origin using computing technology? As a computer scientist, this seems logical to me, yet I've heard no talk of it in the media. Thanks.

Molly Moore: Police tell us the e-mails were sent from public Internet cafes making it difficult for law enforcement personnel to trace the person or persons who actually sent them.

Washington, D.C.: If it is indeed a fake name, is anyone placing bets on who really kidnapped Pearl?

Molly Moore: One of the prime suspects is a group called Harkat ul-Mujahideen. It was named a terrorist group by Bush after 9/11. One of the intermediaries with whom Pearl was working to set up interviews has been identified by police as a member of this organization. But at this point, it is still very unclear who is behind this.

Baltimore, Md.: Do people in Pakistan seem to be torn between their loyalty to the government and the extremist organizations?

Molly Moore: An interesting question. For many years the didn't need to make that distinction. Pakistan's intelligence service was largely controlled by men sympathetic to extremist organizations. President Musharraf now says he is trying to change that. He has replaced some of his top officers in the intelligence service and the Army. The issue now is how long it will take to purge the mid-level sympathizers to those groups.

Boston, Mass.: Could this kidnapping be merely an effort to obtain money or are the political/anti-American overtones to great to ignore?

Molly Moore: There have been no demands for money yet. And in fact, the true motives of the kidnapping remain unclear. We don't know if the true purpose is really to get Pakistani prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or whether that is just political rhetoric and the true purpose of the kidnapping is to embarrass the government, scare reporters off sensitive stories or is retribution from extremist groups unhappy with Musharraf's announced crackdown.

New York, N.Y.: Given the threat to kidnap/kill all American journalists, what is The Post doing to protect you and others? What is it like to be an American reporter under these circumstances?

Molly Moore: The editors of the Post are urging all their reporters here to exercise caution. The situation adds a new level of tension to the job, to be sure. But it has not immobilized reporters or made us unable to do our work here. The vast majority of our interviews are with people who are in fact eager to talk with us. We do not feel under siege though the kidnapping of Mr. Pearl and the photographs released by his abductors are very sobering. Our hearts go out to his wife and family. Because he belonged to the family journalists here, reporting the story becomes very personal.

Falls Church, Va.: What's the latest? Is there any intelligence about where this group may be holding Daniel Pearl? The operation to abduct him seemed fairly sophisticated, but it seems unlikely that he'd just disappear without a trace.

Molly Moore: That's the question of the hour. Police claim they don't have a clue as to where he's being held. Because his contacts apparently convinced him to accompany them when they left their rendezvous point, the Karachi restaurant, there was no struggle or sign of protest that would have alerted on lookers to a problem. Karachi is a city of 14 million people with innumerable hiding places.

Washington, D.C.: I pray for his [Daniel's] safe return.

Molly Moore: We all are. Thank you all so much for participating. I think this is the proper note on which to end our discussion. Many apologies to those of you whose questions we could not get to. Perhaps by tomorrow morning's edition of the Post we'll have a few more answers to offer you.

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company