Q&A: Pakistan Holds its Breath on U.S. Journalist

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Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with a gun to his head

TIME.com: The deadline set by the kidnappers of American journalist Daniel Pearl is fast approaching. Are there any signs of progress by the Pakistani authorities in finding the kidnappers?

Hannah Bloch: Right now we have very little information. One unconfirmed report currently circulating is that one of the key suspects being pursued by the authorities has died, although we don't know under what circumstances. But as far as we have been told, they're no closer to ascertaining the whereabouts of Danny Pearl. Pakistani law enforcement agencies are being assisted by FBI personnel in the search — FBI director Robert Mueller was here last week when Pearl was abducted.

Nobody's really sure when the deadline expires. It was stipulated in an email message that Pearl would be killed in 24 hours, but the message didn't specify a time at which that period would expire. So it's a little complicated.

One of the kidnapper's demands has been that American journalists leave Pakistan — on the face of it, this seems counterintuitive, because presumably they want to send their message to American audiences…

It's designed to intimidate people. There hasn't ever been any sort of abduction of U.S. journalists before. Americans have been targeted in violent attacks in the past, but it was never clear who carried out those attacks. And obviously it's forced everyone to be a little more careful. The U.S. embassy today called in all American journalists in Islamabad for a security briefing.

Are there fears that this could be the tip of an iceberg of anti-American violence in Pakistan?

Pearl's abduction may be part of the fallout from the war in Afghanistan. The widespread rage that was predicted on the streets of Pakistan when the U.S. launched its military campaign did not materialize. But perhaps we're now starting to see some of that sentiment expressed in a more dispersed, although potentially even more dangerous way.

General Musharraf has launched a crackdown on militant Islamic groups in order to save Pakistan from its drift to extremism. How have ordinary Pakistanis responded?

Although it's often hard to measure the nation's mood from the capital, the ordinary Pakistanis I've canvassed were very pleased with Musharraf's January 12 speech, where he spoke of reforming the madrassas (religious schools) and cracking down on extremist groups. Most people in Pakistan are moderate in their outlook, and they felt their country was being held hostage to extremist groups. So many ordinary people have great faith and hope in what Musharraf has set out to do. He really spoke to people's hearts.