Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has now openly said, in reference to the suicide bombing and attempted assassination of her, what many have more quietly suggested over the years:
She has now openly pointed a finger at some elements within Pakistan’s military of involved in the plot to murder her upon her return to Pakistan — elements that some analysts have long contended are sympathetic to Al Qaeda and are a “Trojan Horse” within Pakistan’s infrastructure that could stalemate an successful role in the war on terror. She does not mince words about her belief of the involvement of the military (which hung her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto):
Benazir Bhutto yesterday accused a shadowy web of figures with links to Pakistan’s powerful military establishment of orchestrating Thursday’s huge suicide bombing that killed 138 people and wounded 300.
Less than 24 hours after the failed assassination attempt, which has plunged Pakistan into a fresh crisis, Ms Bhutto said she had received extensive information about plots against her life – including names of ringleaders and telephone numbers – days before she flew to Karachi early on Thursday.
All of the details were included in a letter she sent to President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday. “I told him that if something should happen to me the government should know certain things,” she said at a high-security press conference at her Karachi home.
“This was a dastardly and cowardly attack,” she said. “We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover.”
“We are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberty, but we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants.”
If Musharraf read her materials, it’s highly unlikely this came as a great revelation to HIM: there have been several well-publicized attempts to wipe him out and some have failed within a hair of success. And most suggested the attempts were made using inside information about his precise movements and destinations. Was Bhutto’s information reliable? It sounds as if it came from a solid source:
A “brotherly country” had provided Ms Bhutto with intelligence about four suicide squads roaming Karachi, she said. They came from the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaida and “a fourth group from Karachi”. She forwarded the details, including the names of three ringleaders, to Gen Musharraf on the eve of her return.
“I hoped with so much detail in their hands the government would have been able to apprehend them. But I understand their difficulties,” she said.
The sense of foreboding intensified after she landed. As her fortified vehicle ploughed through a throng of supporters on Thursday night, street lights along the route were inexplicably switched off. Last-minute efforts to alert the national security adviser, Tariq Aziz, failed.
Her security guards discovered two potential assailants – one armed with a pistol, the other wearing a suicide bombing vest. But it was too late to stop another two attackers, she said. Giant explosions sent an orange fireball high into the sky and scattered charred corpses and body parts over a wide radius.
In another interview, Bhutto went into more detail, suggesting it might been backers of former Pakistani military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq within military forces who tried to engineer her elimination.
The good news from Pakistan is that Bhutto certainly shows that she not only gets to her homework, but reads it and quickly tries to put the lessons into practice. Meanwhile, Pakistani police have released a photo of the obviously dead suicide bomber. Officials have also been carefully gathering evidence at the bombing scene.
But amid reports that it plans an all out war on militants, the government issued a statement saying it had done all it could do all it could to protect Bhutto:
Pakistan’s government dismissed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s charge that high-ranking officials may have tried to kill her, saying Saturday that it had done everything possible to protect her triumphant return from exile.
….“I think we should stop playing blame games. The government provided the best possible security to her,” Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim told The Associated Press. “The trauma of the attack has made them say things which probably in coolness of things they will not repeat.”
“People’s names have been mentioned and names have been hinted at without giving any reason or without giving any proof of their involvement, and that is unfair,” he said.
Bhutto is making it clear that she will not be deterred in fostering democracy in Pakistan:
A defiant Benazir Bhutto donned a black armband Friday and vowed not to be deterred from her quest to bring civilian rule to Pakistan after a suicide attack on her homecoming celebration killed as many as 136 supporters.
Some Pakistanis wondered whether the former prime minister had jeopardized the safety of her followers by riding in a slow-moving convoy through streets choked with adoring crowds, particularly in light of death threats made against her by Islamic militants.
But there was a general sense here that Bhutto was a victim of the apparent assassination attempt, and not to blame.
President Pervez Musharraf, the military leader who is both Bhutto’s rival and prospective political ally, called her Friday to express condolences, a move suggesting that the two are trying to avoid antagonism. Both are seen as moderates who are friendly to the West, and have been urged by the Bush administration to reach a power-sharing accord that would serve as the basis for a peaceful transition to civilian rule.
“The attack was not on me. The attack was on what I represent. It was an attack on democracy and it was an attack on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan,” Bhutto told reporters. “We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover.”
And the stakes are high. Press reports and editorials are articulating what has been said for several years, only the bombing puts it in sharp focus: in a sense, Pakistan is the “weak link” in America’s strategy in the war against terror…and if it “goes” there could be grave consequences. The Toronto Star:
The deadly suicide bombs that blew apart Benazir Bhutto’s triumphal cavalcade in Karachi were striking not just at a political leader, but at the future of Pakistan itself.
“This is a critical point for Pakistan,” warns Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani official.
“It is proving again and again that it is becoming a failed state. Now is the time when it will make a choice between extremism and democracy.”
Pakistan, a military dictatorship ruled by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has been a crucial ally of the United States in the “war against terror,” receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington.
Yet the rising violence, capped by the attack on the returning former prime minister in which more than 125 people died, has alarmed Western leaders, raising new fears that the turbulent nuclear-armed country may be sliding down a slippery slope to dangerous instability.
The suicide bombing during former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan Thursday has highlighted the country’s failed efforts at democratization, a political scientist says.
“Bhutto is more accepted by the people of Pakistan than president Pervez Musharraf, but I think her co-operation with him is the kiss of death to some extent,” University of Alberta professor Mojtaba Mahdavi told Sun Media yesterday.
“His popularity is in decline. Members of his own government clearly helped the Taliban and others plan this attack. Although I hope for the best, I really don’t know that Bhutto can lend legitimacy to this government.”
Mahdavi said “illiteracy, poverty, political militarization” trump any advances Pakistan has made in the democratization process.
“Compared to India, the political picture of Pakistan is very unstable,” he said.
Contributing to that instability are jihadist sympathizers in areas of the country where members of the Taliban and al-Qaida move freely across the border with Afghanistan, disrupting rebuilding efforts there as well.
Newsday’s editorial reads, in part:
Bhutto may have been tainted with corruption charges as prime minister of Pakistan, and she may have made a Faustian power-sharing bargain with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who agreed to let her return to run for January’s parliamentary election as long as he could remain president. But give her this: She has guts.
Her defiant challenge to militants who support the Taliban and al-Qaida has likely marked her for more assassination tries. As a prominent political figure with a large popular following, her gender alone would make her a prime target for Islamic radicals. But she has also stirred a hornet’s nest by accusing members of the Pakistani intelligence agencies, known to be sympathetic to Islamists, of complicity in the attack, which killed at least 136 people. A long history of enmity exists between her family and the Pakistani military, which hanged her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, after a secret trial in 1979.
Time Magazine expands on reportage about the lax government security (even more significant in light of the fact she warned them of plans to try and murder her) and adds this:
Karachi-based analyst Nusrat Javed says that several of Bhutto’s statements at Western forums over the past few weeks may have riled any number of forces in Pakistan. She has said on several occasions that if the situation in the tribal areas, where senior members of al-Qaeda are thought to be hiding, continues to deteriorate, she would consider allowing American forces to fight on Pakistani soil. She has also said that she would provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEAP) access to nuclear proliferator â€” and Pakistani hero â€” A. Q. Khan. “These statements have been manipulated by the media to make it seem as if she is more than willing to do whatever it is the United States wants, and that is a very unpopular position here in Pakistan,” says Javed. “Taken with her vow to eradicate extremism in the tribal areas, she has excited all the usual suspects in the political continuum.”
Kamran Noorani, a prominent Pakistani publisher who witnessed last night’s explosions firsthand, suggests that blaming al-Qaeda or international terrorist groups is too easy, and could potentially cover up a much more complicated array of forces that would benefit by attacking Bhutto. “I don’t think Bhutto is much of a threat to groups like al-Qaeda,” he says. “What can she really do right now to counter terrorism? Maybe in the long run she will change Pakistan, but in the short run she is less of a threat than the military is.”
Instead, he says, yesterday’s attacks could have been at the instigation of groups within the government that feel threatened by her populist appeal. The PPP’s massive grassroots support is largely dependent on carnival-like political rallies that entertain party members as much as they provide hope for a better life. No other party in Pakistan has been able to match the PPP in terms of fervent rural loyalty. With parliamentary elections due in January, Bhutto’s return just in time for the start of the campaign could prove disastrous for other political groups. ….My feeling is that this was done to scare Bhutto and the PPP. It was done to discourage proper election campaigning. This will discourage people from going out and participating.”
Or, could it be a combination or several factors? Trying to discern what happened and who was behind it seems to suggest more and more what Bhutto is alleging and experts have feared: that there are elements within the Pakistani military that didn’t want her back and some folks that were not happy that her return could mean a tougher line on those who sympathize with Al Qaeda and the group’s aim.
OF ADDITIONAL INTEREST:
Pakistan: Concern over nukes as al Qaeda camps empty
Pakistani Intelligence Had Links to Al Qaeda, U.S. Officials Say
U.S. Intel Officer: Al Qaeda Leadership Allowed To Operate Freely
Pakistan’s forgotten al-Qaeda nuclear link
Pakistan denies al Qaeda resurgence report
Pakistan Army Terror Squad Targeted in Bombing
New Bin Laden Video Declares War On Pakistan
American Power Play In Pakistan
Pakistan Throws in the Towel
Hunting for Al Qaeda in Waziristan
Who’s Hiding Osama Bin Laden?
A CROSS SECTION OF WEBLOG REACTION:
Thereâ€™s no dearth of conspiracy theories to explain the audacious attack on Bhuttoâ€™s convoy, and Bhutto herself has hinted that the government may have been involved.
Has she just been watching too many Oliver Stone movies? No. The sad fact is that there are so many possibile suspects that the culprits may never be known, although the complexity of the mode of attack has al Qaeda written all over it. But itâ€™s also possible that copycats are involved.
Without having access to any special information, Iâ€™d vote for the latter: sabotage by those who fear Benazir Bhuttoâ€™s return to politics. The Islamic parties have had it easy over the past few years. Because no organized secular political opposition to military rule was allowed, Islamists took advantage of the vacuum; they achieved a degree of power never possible when they had to contest elections against parties like the Pakistan Peopleâ€™s Party and the real Muslim League. Benazirâ€™s return changes the equation. The Islamists lose their free ride.
And there are those who loathe this extremely articulate female politician even more than the essentially reputable Islamists do. Ever since the days of the first (recent) Afghan War, the one against the Russians, the Taliban and other violently intolerant jihadists have been goaded on, financed and protected by elements of the Pakistani military, as Bhutto herself laid out, in detail.
So plenty of people would like Bhutto dead. Arranging for a convenient power failure wouldn’t have been beyond the capacity of many of them.
—The Newshoggers suspects it’s holdovers from the old Pakistani regime of General Zia that were behind it and points to several interviews by Bhutto:
You have to have been looking very hard in the other direction over the fast years to have missed the fact that the ISI has always been a major supporter of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, using those and other Islamist terror groups as proxies in struggles with rival states. Thus my asking yesterday when the news of the attack first broke “ISI or Islamists?”
Benazir Bhutto may have been an incompetent and corrupt prime minister, but her ill-greeted return to Pakistan leaves me wondering if incompetence and corruption is a small price to pay for combating terrorism.
It should be remembered that the Taliban was given succor and military safeguarding under the Bhutto administration of the mid-90’s, under the presumption that a totalitarian Islamist state was better than sheer anarchy.
However, Bhutto’s time in exile has not been misspent. She’s now both clear and firm in her opposition to Al Qaeda. She’s managed to pull off what the U.S. Defense Department had hoped Ahmad Chalabi could do in Iraq and cultivate a massive electoral base from outside her own country. And as a Western-educated woman of great beauty and charm, her place at the head of a Muslim state would surely send a signal to the Bin Ladenists that their former patron regime is now unambiguously ranged against them.
On her triumphant victory tour in Karachi, Benazir Bhuttoâ€™s motorcade was attacked, killing over 130 people and injuring hundreds more. While she blames the government for inadequate security, she could perhaps also heap some blame in the other direction: not just for nominating herself the savior of Pakistani democracy, but also for her deep funding of the extremist madrassas that birthed the Taliban. Letâ€™s be honest here: yes, Musharraf is capricious and ineffective, but so was Bhutto, who was so bad the Swiss even convicted her of money laundering.
Secular and civil elements in Pakistan – a crucial, even if irregular ally in the war on terror – are agitating for a return to democratic normality and an end to Pervez Musharrafâ€™s military rule. Bhuttoâ€™s return to Pakistan marks the beginning of a power-sharing arrangement that should lead in time to just that sort of normalization. The Islamist militants have clearly weighed the odds and decided that there is more to be gained in the indiscriminate slaughter of their own countrymen than trusting to the ballot box. That may stiffen the spines of those already on side, but it cannot be expected to draw them many new sympathizers from among the population at large. And if the Islamist radicals cannot win at the ballot box, then we have little reason to coddle dictators against our conscience.
Benazir Bhutto is an unlikely savior – as a twice-elected president she governed inexpertly and charges of corruption swirled about her person and her entourage. But Pakistan is not Kansas, and this is perhaps the best that we can hope for – that, and for her continued survival, by the grace of God.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.