Saturday, December 29

Behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

"I am what the terrorists most fear," Benazir Bhutto told in an interview.
She was also the figure President Pervez Musharraf most feared as a rival, as expressed to me by the beleaguered leader's close confidant, Humayun Gauhar: "If the Americans can have a government led by Bhutto, they will get what Musharraf has refused them. She will allow NATO boots on the ground in our tribal areas and a chance to neuter our nuclear weapons," said Gauhar. This is exactly why the American government was eager to see Bhutto gain or share power with the Musharraf's highly unpopular regime.
During her campaigning last month through 100 miles of villages in her home district, the Sindh, she stood in a cab atop a truck, her head and torso completely exposed. Her only protection was one female bodyguard – Naheed Khan, an unarmed older woman who has served for years as Bhutto’s personal assistant.
“We must be out on the streets,” she told me, “or the terrorists win.”
Bhutto had survived a large-scale bombing attack only a few weeks before, during the massive parade welcoming her back to Pakistan after more than a decade of self-exile. Musharraf was said to be livid when he heard TV reports that his nemesis was attracting millions. “Do something!” he ordered the army corps commander, according to a journalist who was there.
Nearing midnight on October 18, the streetlights went out. Police didn’t respond to frantic calls from her security people. Benazir’s feet were swollen from standing, she told me. She ducked below into a steel command centre to remove her sandals. Minutes later, a bomb went off. Stoically calm, she told the people with her not to go outside – another blast would likely follow. When an empty car detonated a police van, she lifted the shade. I asked how she had reacted to the carnage.
“I have no feeling,” said this survivor of a lifetime of traumas. “I go into a detachment, I start ticking off steps I have to do next.”
More than 170 of her supporters died. Within an hour, the bodies were removed. Soon after, her caravan and all other evidences were hauled away by police cranes. Tellingly, the Musharraf government has mounted no investigation.
The Musharraf propaganda machine called it a suicide attack by Islamic extremists. Bhutto herself believed it was the dirty work of Musharraf’s political allies. The ISI is infiltrated by ideologically jihadist elements that support al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists in Pakistan's border provinces. Bhutto had tried as prime minister to eject the ISI from politics, but that “country within a country” managed to overthrow her instead. She was well aware the security services were less than enthusiastic about Benazir Bhutto becoming prime minister a third time.
After the October 18 carnage, Bhutto's People's Party asked the Musharraf government for the kind of security arrangements owed to a former prime minister. “We got no cooperation,” says Bhutto's American spokesman, Mark Siegel. “She just kept on without security, she didn't care about the personal danger. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”
Bhutto also believed in predestination.
The Musharraf government is again dismissive of the lapse in security by the Army and security services. They allowed a sophisticated assassin to kill her at close range while the crowd was distracted by a suicide bombing – the same scenario attempted in the November attack.
The government holds Bhutto to blame for taking the risk of public campaigning. Musharraf previously had confined her under house arrest. When that produced an international outcry, he warned her to stay out of sight. “We don't want a dead Benazir on our hands,” Humayun Gauhar, Musharraf's confidante, argued in an interview with me. “She'd be just another unlikely martyr that we don't need.” What will happen as Pakistan is again plunged into turmoil? Mark Siegel will release names that she instructed him to hold responsible in the event of her assassination. Musharraf will likely cancel the January 8 election. Bhutto already was prepared to boycott, believing it to be rigged from top to bottom. Musharraf's election commission had announced it would refuse the European Commission to send observers to polling places except those predetermined by the government. Bhutto's supporters expect her assassination to be used as the pretext for an indefinite suspension of political freedoms and free and fair elections.

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