The Pakistani State, Dominated by Military & Intelligence Services, Bear Ultimate Responsibility for Benazir Bhutto’s Murder

Benazir Bhutto is dead, martyred by a hired assassin’s bullets in the cause of the struggle for the rights of the people and in challenging the hegemony of a coterie of vested interests that is feeding itself off the sweat and blood of the people.

State minions have blamed the attack on Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban Amir in Pakistan, a charge that has been duly denied. Clearly, one side is lying and, under the circumstances, the Musharraf regime’s spokesmen do not command any more credibility than Baitullah Mehsud’s spokesmen.

However, it cannot be disputed that it is the duty of the state to protect every citizen. And the state failed to protect a citizen who a vast multitude of people regarded as their leader and saviour and who was under threat — by official accounts as well. To this extent, at the very least, the Musharraf regime is responsible and liable. However, the direct responsibility of state functionaries cannot be ruled out altogether. The pattern of attempts at concealment, diversion, contradictions and concoction in the official responses to the October carnage at Karsaz in Karachi and the subsequent murderous attack at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi constitute disturbing pointers.

One clear case of concoction is perhaps discernable, namely the transcript of the ‘conversation’ between Baitullah Mehsud and his ‘maulvi’ field commander. Technology exists to trace calls to its location within seconds. Israel routinely uses such technology to locate Hamas freedom fighters and surgically target the particular vehicle, even while it is moving. It appears that the Pakistan military possesses this technology, as shown by its ability to pick up the ‘conversation.’ That they were not able or willing to locate either the ‘maulvi’ or Baitullah Mehsud during their alleged minute-long conversation smacks of incompetence or connivance.

Incompetence and/or connivance has now emerged as a hallmark of the Musharraf regime in different areas of policy. Most recent is the case of Mullah Fazlullah in Swat. Media reports of the operation of an illegal radio station by the mullah had been appearing for more than a year. No attempt was made to jam the broadcasts, although the technology to jam radio signals — used even during the Second World War — was available to Pakistani authorities. Possession of this technology is now proved, given that such radio signals have been jammed since the launch of the military operation in Swat. The question arises: is the Swat episode indicative of incompetence or connivance?

Earlier, Pakistani forces battled militants entrenched in the Lal Masjid/Masjid-i-Hafsa complex, suffering several casualties and causing between several score to several hundred deaths among the students. The Lal Masjid episode too simmered for more than a year before coming to a head. The question that arose then, and which no state functionary has cared to answer to date, is: how is it that the Ghazi brothers were able to amass sophisticated weaponry in the heart of Islamabad — a city where it is said that the number of intelligence operatives outnumber the total number of janitors, gardeners and taxi drivers combined? Once again, the question arises: is the bloody Lal Masjid episode indicative of incompetence or connivance?

Earlier still emerged the affair relating to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s clandestine international operations in smuggling contraband nuclear equipment and material. The exposure of his illicit activities was made not by Pakistani authorities but by the United States. The official Pakistan explanation was that he was alone in running the smuggling ring and that Pakistani officials were neither involved nor aware.

Dr Qadeer Khan was a high-value national asset, protected by more than one high-powered security agency. Those who have experienced even one day of police escort know that the facility is double-edged. While the escort ostensibly provides protection, it also deprives the protected individual of a degree of privacy. That the nuclear scientist was able to carry out an international operation involving highly sensitive material — and allegedly use Pakistan Air Force C-130 planes to freight his wares around the world — without drawing the attention of his ‘escorts’ is inconceivable. Once again the question arises: is the Qadeer Khan episode suggestive of incompetence or connivance?

The issue of both, incompetence and connivance, is of critical importance. If incompetence is attributed to the above three cases — and they are by no means exhaustive — the implication is that the country has crossed the threshold of what defines a failed state. The government is unable to enforce its writ; it is unable to control illegal broadcasting stations; it is unable to stop the accumulation of weaponry at any location; it is unable to control individuals engaged in smuggling of dangerous materials; it is unable to protect the life and property of the citizens. By inference it should be considered unable to carry out the assigned task of assisting the United States in its war against terror.

Attribution of connivance is more worrisome. If the events of Swat, Lal Masjid and nuclear smuggling have been allowed to simmer or continue with the connivance of state functionaries, the implication is that there is a coterie of powerful individuals within the corridors of power who consider themselves above the law — national or international — and unaccountable to any principle or institution save their own definition of interests.

The demand for an international investigation into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination needs to be viewed in this context. It would be irresponsible to suggest that extra-legal operations are carried out under formal governmental auspices. However, the repeated and prolonged suspension of constitutional processes and the rule of law have created extra-constitutional and extra-legal power centers. These shadowy centers, embedded within and around the state apparatuses, have spawned a wide network of criminal and terrorist cells. This is an extremely dangerous situation. If the state allows itself to be manipulated outside the bounds of law, the implication is that it has allowed itself to be criminalized. If such a state closes its eyes to some of its functionaries — or those outside but close to power centers — collaborating with international or local smugglers, criminals, militants or terrorists, it can be suspected that this collaboration will at some future date extend to a wider range of criminal and terrorist activities in the country and abroad. The dangers inherent for civilized society in Pakistan and for the world community at large need to be recognised.

Clearly, substantive remedial measures are called for. If the murder of Benazir Bhutto is attributable to incompetence, there emerges an urgent imperative for correcting the failed state syndromes. If it is attributable to connivance, the corridors of power need to be cleaned up. In particular, the cobwebs shrouding sinister Ziaist forces in secret cells have to be cleared and the extra-constitutional and extra-legal power centers dismantled.

Full restoration of the rule of law is in the interest of the political community and civil society in Pakistan if other political or civic leaders are not to be subjected to the threat of elimination. It is in the interest of the international community to help the people of Pakistan restore the rule of law if Pakistan is not to become the focal point for lawlessness, criminality and terrorism worldwide.

Bhutto’s Life Represents the Struggle Between Pakistan’s People and the Establishment

Benazir Bhutto, the outstanding icon of Pakistan’s struggle for democracy is gone. For those who only saw her as a distant political figure, her human dimension clearly did not matter. That applies to those who vilified her throughout her life, those who failed to protect her and those who actually killed her. But for everyone whose life she touched, her humanity transcended the politics.

I was among those who got to know Benazir Bhutto, the person –a daughter scarred by the assassination of her father, a sister injured by the killing of her brothers, a wife hurt by the disparagement and imprisonment without conviction of her husband, and a mother who was robbed of the opportunity to see her children grown into adulthood. With all the verbal and physical abuse hurled at her, she remained amazingly loving and lovable. Her loss is a personal loss to me and millions of others who admired her. Her assassination also creates serious challenges for the integrity and future of Pakistan.

Beginning with Ziaul Haq’s decision to execute Pakistan first popularly elected leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan has witnessed a fundamental struggle between the country’s establishment, which rules with military backing, and populist forces led by the Bhutto family. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is the latest twist in that conflict.

Like all great people, and political dynasties, the Bhuttos generate a lot of passion both for and against. In the days to come we will read and hear many facts, factoids and falsehoods about the strengths, weaknesses and paradoxes of Benazir Bhutto. To me these are merely the subtext. The headline is that the Pakistani establishment’s nemesis has been removed from the scene, ostensibly by terrorists who have flourished in establishment-dominated Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto was demonized by the civil-military oligarchy that has virtually run Pakistan since 1958, the year of Pakistan’s first military coup. But she retained a hard core of popular support, and her social-democratic Pakistan People’s Party is widely regarded as Pakistan’s largest political party. Pakistan’s civilian leaders of recent years (including Benazir Bhutto) get blamed for many things that are essentially the result of the establishment’s obsessions-with India, about Afghanistan and relations with the United States.

Benazir Bhutto had the combination of political brilliance, charisma, popular support and international recognition that made her a credible democratic alternative to Musharraf acceptable to the international community. Her elimination from the scene is not only a personal loss to millions of Pakistanis who loved and admired her. It exposes Pakistan’s nation’s vulnerability, and the urgent need to deal with it.

Bhutto’s assassination could be a setback to populist-democratic forces. But it also has the potential to mobilize strong backlash against the militarist and overly centralized paradigm of the Pakistani state. Getting through elections that his Kings Party would almost certainly lose if they were fair is not the only challenge facing Musharraf right now. With the help and support of the military, he can weather any immediate challenge to his authority. But Bhutto’s murder adds to Musharraf’s legitimacy problems.

Bhutto’s assassination highlights the fears about Pakistan that she voiced over the last several months. Years of dictatorship and sponsorship of Islamist extremism have made this nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 160 million people a safe haven for terrorists that threaten the world. Bhutto had the courage and vision to challenge both terrorism and the authoritarian culture that nurtured it. Her assassination has already exacerbated Pakistan’s instability and uncertainty.

Riots have erupted in several parts of the country as grief has fanned anger against a government that is deeply unpopular. People in Pakistan’s smaller provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, are particularly aggrieved and angered. Like her father before her, she was a leader from Sindh with national appeal. That she met a tragic end without much protection or comfort from the country’s ruling elite heightens the isolation of Sindhis and Balochis.

Barely two years ago, a missile attack by security forces killed octogenarian Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. The circumstances of Bhutto’s death -assassination by a terrorist -may be different but the net result is the same: systematic elimination of nationally recognized anti-establishment political leaders with strong constituencies.

The tragedy of December 27 may have been the work of a terrorist but for Bhutto’s supporters, the government is not without blame. Musharraf refused to accept Bhutto’s requests for an investigation in the earlier attempt on her life on October 18, assisted by the FBI or Scotland Yard, both of which have greater competence in analyzing forensic evidence than Pakistan’s notoriously corrupt and incompetent law enforcement. The circumstances of the first assassination attempt remain mired in mystery as has often been the case with murders of Pakistan’s high profile political personalities.

Television images soon after Bhutto’s assassination showed fire engines hosing down the crime scene, in what can only be considered a calculated washing away of forensic evidence. Bhutto had publicly expressed fears that pro-extremist elements within Pakistan’s security services were complicit in plans to eliminate her. Instead of addressing those fears, Musharraf cynically rejected Bhutto’s request for international security consultants to be hired at her own expense.

This cynicism on the part of the Pakistani authorities is now causing most of Bhutto’s supporters to vent anger against the Musharraf regime for her tragic death. One cannot understand why a regime that has not hesitated to compromise national sovereignty in its conduct of foreign policy insists on invoking the sovereignty argument in resisting an international investigation of a vicious crime it says it condemns.

The United States might not be willing, at this stage, to review its policy of trusting the military-dominated regime led by Pervez Musharraf to secure and stabilize Pakistan. But as Musharraf becomes less and less credible in the eyes of his own people, it might have to. The U.S. would come under pressure of international opinion to use its influence, acquired with more than $10 billion in economic and military aid, to persuade Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment to loosen its grip on power and negotiate with politicians with popular support, most prominently Bhutto’s successors in her Pakistan People’s Party as well as the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) leader Nawaz Sharif. Instead of calibrating terrorism, as Musharraf appears to have done, Pakistan must work towards eliminating terrorism, as Bhutto demanded.

Now that the PPP and PML-N have agreed to participate in the polls, parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8 should not be delayed. The plans for poll rigging already in place for the benefit of the Kings Party, PML-Q should be shelved to ensure that a rigged poll does not become the instigator of a new round of street violence. Musharraf has ruled alone for long enough. He should not put the country’s stability and prosperity in jeopardy by continuing with the political juggling that has kept him strong so far while making Pakistan weak.

There is no way the PPP will now lose the election, given the strong sympathy wave resulting from Mohtarma’s assassination. It led in opinion polls, followed by Sharif’s PML-N even before. Cooperation between PML-N and the PPP, as well as other opposition parties, offers an opportunity to turn national sorrow into national unity. The establishment could hold on to power by use of force but that would only harm an already brittle nation further.

In her death, as in her life, Benazir Bhutto has drawn attention to the need for building a moderate Muslim democracy in Pakistan that cares for its people and allows them to elect its leaders. The war against terrorism, she repeatedly argued, cannot be won without mobilizing the people of Pakistan against violent extremists, and bringing Pakistan’s security services under civilian control. Indeed the federation cannot be kept together except through the will and commitment of its people.

Husain Haqqani, a professor at Boston University, is Co-Chair of the Hudson Institute’s Project on Islam and Democracy. He is the author of the Carnegie Endowment book ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military’ and served as an adviser to Ms Bhutto.

Few Believe in Government’s Explanation of Bhutto’s Death as Investigation Deepens

As the probe into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination deepens, many Pakistanis already have strongly held theories about who killed her. The problem for President Pervez Musharraf’s government: Few share its version of what happened.

Iktiadar Ali Shah, a 52-year-old who served in the former prime minister’s security detail in the 1980s, says he doesn’t doubt how Ms. Bhutto died. He says that while moving toward her white bulletproof car as it crawled through throngs of supporters after a Dec. 27 campaign rally, he heard three or four shots from two guns. Then Mr. Shah saw a huge blast, which he suspects was triggered by remote control to simulate a suicide bomber. His chief suspect: Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

Another man, one of many who have gathered at makeshift memorials for Ms. Bhutto in this army-garrison town outside the capital, Islamabad, has a very different theory.

“This was the West’s attempt to destabilize our country and take control of our nuclear weapons,” he shouts, standing amid the scattered rose petals to mark the spot of her death. The man, balding and dressed in a checkered sports coat, refuses to give his name. “Call me Pakistan,” he says.

Controversy, suspicion and conspiracy: They are an inevitable part of sensational deaths, from John F. Kennedy to Princess Diana. In the wake of Ms. Bhutto’s assassination – and the government’s investigation – conspiracy theories have become a national obsession here, further eroding confidence in Mr. Musharraf’s crisis-racked presidency.

To try to allay public skepticism and restore some credibility, the government has called in a team from Scotland Yard to help its investigation. The British team has inspected the site where Ms. Bhutto died and also the mangled vehicle that carried her. They will be trying to clarify what happened by compiling a report that is expected to be released in the coming weeks, possibly ahead of parliamentary elections. Those elections recently were pushed back to Feb. 18 from yesterday, following unrest sparked by Ms. Bhutto’s death.

“We should all wait for the results of investigation, which the government will share with the people,” Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told a regular media briefing yesterday.

President Musharraf himself, after an initial silence, has said he isn’t satisfied with the investigation and has recently backed away from from an early official version of what happened. In an interview Sunday with CBS television, Mr. Musharraf acknowledged Ms. Bhutto may have been shot—a view that contrasted with the government’s initial contention that she had died from smashing her head against a sunroof lever during the suicide blast. Mr. Musharraf met with Scotland Yard investigators yesterday and promised not to meddle in their probe, said Mr. Cheema.

But Pakistani officials, including Mr. Musharraf, have stuck by their allegations that Islamist militants were behind this attack, as well as an Oct. 18 suicide bombing in Karachi. The earlier attack narrowly missed Ms. Bhutto but killed more than 150 people.

Officials from Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party have rejected the initial government findings. Instead of Scotland Yard, they have called for an independent investigation from the United Nations. They have also faulted the government for hosing down the crime scene just hours after the assassination and for allegedly failing to provide adequate security for Ms. Bhutto.

“It all points to a massive coverup,” asserts Farhatullah Babar, a PPP spokesman.

Ms. Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said in London yesterday that only a U.N. investigation would satisfy him.

“We do not believe that an investigation under the authority of the Pakistani government has the necessary transparency,” said the 19-year-old, who was chosen as chairman of his mother’s party after her death. “Already, so much forensic evidence has been destroyed.”

PPP officials say they are skeptical that the government’s chief suspect, Baitullah Mehsud, an Islamic militant based in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region, plotted the assassination. Through emissaries after both attacks on Ms. Bhutto, Mr. Mehsud told the PPP leadership he was fighting government security forces in Pakistan’s northwest, not targeting Ms. Bhutto, according to Mr. Babar, the PPP spokesman.

Ms. Bhutto has long vowed to rid Pakistan of Islamist militants. And letters from her security adviser, Rehman Malik, also alerted the government’s interior ministry to threats from extremists. But doubts over the government’s version of events runs deep, largely because of plummeting confidence in Mr. Musharraf.

Having purged Pakistan’s courts of unfriendly justices, clamped down on the media and detained scores of political opponents over the past year, Mr. Musharraf has come to the point where many Pakistanis appear more willing to take the word of an Islamic militant over his.

“The Taliban wouldn’t target a woman,” insists an 84-year-old university researcher in Islamabad. “It’s 100% Musharraf.”

The public suspicions have left Mr. Musharraf angry. At a recent news conference, he declared that he wasn’t raised in a family that plotted and killed people. Muhammed Ali Saif, a lawyer and adviser to the president, recalled his boss’s more sardonic response to speculation that he had dispatched a squad of suicide assassins to take out a charismatic rival.

“People think I killed Benazir,” Mr. Saif recalls Mr. Musharraf saying. “I wish I had such supporters who would blow themselves up for me.”

But Mr. Musharraf’s protests haven’t stopped speculation over how Ms. Bhutto died, as well as who is to blame. Aside from the gunshots and remote-control-bomb theory subscribed to by Mr. Shah, others suspect more sophisticated weaponry was involved. Local newspapers have suggested a team of snipers could have used long-distance laser guns to kill Ms. Bhutto.

Earlier stranger-than-fiction deaths of Pakistani political figures, including those in the Bhutto family, have lent credibility to the most far-fetched theories. Ms. Bhutto had no shortage of political enemies—some of whom are now subjects of scrutiny by the public, if not the police.

One is Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who is the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League faction allied with Mr. Musharraf. His father was assassinated by a terror group associated with Murtaza Bhutto, Ms. Bhutto’s brother, according to Hamid Gul, the former director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, who says he has read a confidential file on the killing. In 1996, Ms. Bhutto’s brother was shot and killed in turn.

Mr. Hussain’s father was a confidant of Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who hanged Ms. Bhutto’s father, also a former prime minister, and who jailed Ms. Bhutto and her mother. (Gen. Zia died in a mysterious 1988 air crash. Some have speculated the cause of the crash was linked to a last-minute cargo addition: a crate of mangoes).

Mr. Hussain’s supporters reject speculation of his involvement in Ms. Bhutto’s assassination.

“The blame game should stop,” said the spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, Tariq Azim. “People have to be patient, wait for the investigation to be completed.”

Ms. Bhutto died near the same municipal park where Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was murdered in 1951. Outside the park, now named for Liaquat Bagh, bouquets of flowers are piled near billboards with Ms. Bhutto’s image.

Government investigators have recovered a severed head of a young male with a light mustache from the crime scene—a detail that would appear to reinforce the theory of a suicide bomber. In newspaper announcements, the government has offered a reward for anyone with information about the identity of the head.

“The head isn’t important,” counters Mr. Babar, the PPP spokesman. “What’s important is finding the heart and the hands behind this plot.”

This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on January 9