Murder Most Foul: Pakistan’s Establishment and the Benazir Bhutto Assassination

Gen. MusharrafWith charges against former dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, formally filed in an Islamabad court, the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto is once again the center of attention. While few doubt that Musharraf failed to provide sufficient security to the popular leader, her assassination was not just Musharraf’s doing. In a forthcoming book United Nations investigator Heraldo Munoz has pointed out that there is much more that needs both investigation and prosecution.

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Keeping Pakistan’s “enemies” alive


The recent positive steps taken by the Nawaz Sharif government to normalize relations between India and Pakistan do not seem to thrill the establishment machinery very much. It is no surprise that only a few days after the current government showed a positive step towards normalization of relations between the two countries that we see analysts like Zaid Hamid coming on multiple TV shows in one night and voicing the ISI and establishment views, trying to shape a completely different narrative.

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Why is a PTI-establishment link so easy to believe?

Imran Khan

After weeks of successful rallies and seeing their stock rise in the media, PTI finds itself on the back foot this week after increasing allegations about how close the party is with the establishment. While these allegations remain largely based on speculation, PTI supporters might want to think about why people find their party’s ties to agencies so easy to believe.

Dr Awab Alvi, son of PTI General Secretary Dr Arif Alvi, wrote on his blog the other day that he is “getting tired of hearing people accusing PTI of being supported by the establishment”. Dr Awab strongly defends his political party as a party of change that is being attacked unfairly.

Ironically, on that very same day, a news article in The Sunday Times reported that “[Imran Khan] was recently introduced to Cameron Munter, the American ambassador, in the presence of General Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief”.

PTI denied the Sunday Times report, and are considering a lawsuit against the British newspaper. At the same time, ISPR issued a strongly worded statement denying the meeting causing some to wonder if both PTI and the agency weren’t being more defensive than necessary.

This was followed by Omar Cheema being grilled by Sana Bucha about why Imran Khan named Husain Haqqani as involved in the memogate scandal at his 30th October rally when he had not been identified by that time. The obvious insinuation was that Imran Khan had been tipped off by his contacts in the establishment. Again, PTI was quick to respond that while it is true that Haqqani had not been identified, Imran “put two and two together”. I’m not sure if it’s a good excuse for someone who wants to be trusted with the responsibilities of PM to admit that he makes public accusations against people based merely on his assumption, but in this case his assumption turned out to be right so this too will pass without much comment.

What is interesting to note in each case is not whether or not it is proof that PTI is an establishment party. On their own, these two incidents are easily excused. What is more interesting, though, is why it was so easy for so many people to believe that it was the proof in the pudding that PTI was forced to put out strongly worded statements, and in the case of Sunday Times, even contemplate a lawsuit.

Actually, I hope Dr saheb is right and that PTI is not being used as a tool of the establishment. But I also hope that the events of this week make them stop for a moment to ask why it’s so easy for people to believe they are…

The biggest coup of all

Abottabad compound

On Off the Record tonight, Kashif Abbasi asked Imran Khan of all people why didn’t the president and prime minister know about this operation? The first question to ask is why Kashif asked Imran Khan of all people, as if he would have any way of knowing what goes on behind closed doors at the highest levels. Second, who says the president and PM didn’t know? But what is more interesting is Imran Khan’s response to the question, which appears to be planted, that the operation will have negative consequences that weaken Pakistan Army. I think there might be something to what Imran Khan is saying, but it may not be what it seems at first.

In many ways, the reactions of Osama’s death have been predictable. CNN showed footage of Americans standing outside the White House chanting USA. Burger bacchas whined on Twitter and Facebook. Hamid Mir began reading the Taliban statement on TV. Zaid Hamid reminded everyone of his complete disconnection from reality. And Mushy belatedly became concerned about sovereignty. These were so predictable that it was almost boring to watch unfold.

What has been more interesting to me are the subtle clues to something much more interesting – and much more important – is happening within the ranks. Yes, much of this is speculation, but please let me tell you an alternative read on what has happened. There’s a lot of confusion and contradictory information going around, so let’s slow down for a moment and think about this logically:

1. Osama was holed up in a compound in Abbottabad for over five years, which makes it virtually impossible to believe that intelligence agencies had no idea he was there.

2. The attack was carried out by US special forces who flew in and out of Abbottabad using military helicopters, which makes it hard to believe that GHQ didn’t approve.

So, was the mission carried out as a joint Pak-US operation?

According to the speech of President of the US Barack Obama,

It’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

This same point was made in the statement released from the Foreign Office today.

In an intelligence driven operation, Osama Bin Ladin was killed in the surroundings of Abbotabad in the early hours of this morning. This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Ladin will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world.

Earlier today, President Obama telephoned President Zardari on the successful US operation which resulted in killing of Osama bin Ladin.

Osama bin Ladin’s death illustrates the resolve of the international community including Pakistan to fight and eliminate terrorism. It constitutes a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world.

Al-Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan. Scores of Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks resulted in deaths of thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women and children. Almost, 30,000 Pakistani civilians lost their lives in terrorist attacks in the last few years. More than 5,000 Pakistani security and armed forces officials have been martyred in Pakistan’s campaign against Al-Qaeda, other terrorist organizations and affiliates.

Pakistan has played a significant role in efforts to eliminate terrorism. We have had extremely effective intelligence sharing arrangements with several intelligence agencies including that of the US. We will continue to support international efforts against terrorism.

It is Pakistan’s stated policy that it will not allow its soil to be used in terrorist attacks against any country. Pakistan’s political leadership, parliament, state institutions and the whole nation are fully united in their resolve to eliminate terrorism.

Neither the US nor FO said much about involvement of Pakistan personnel, but both countries spoke of cooperation from the highest levels of government. Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley posted on Twitter:

#Pakistan evidently played an integral part in the #binLaden operation, reinforcing to the #Pakistani people why this is a shared struggle.

As obvious as this seems, we must ask why it is being downplayed by both sides and why media is asking people like Imran Khan why the civilian government didn’t know about the mission when they obviously did. I suspect that the reason is that President Zardari and PM Gilani did know, and that this operation was carried out by civilian government taking command and leaving certain elements of the old establishment in the dark.

From the early days of the present government, civilian leaders have been trying to reign in what are perceived to be out of control elements in the military and intelligence agencies. Recall that in 2008 the government attempted to bring ISI under civilian supervision, only to be rebuffed by GHQ. Despite the PM’s recent remarks that ISI operates under full civilian control, nobody really believes this. But that doesn’t mean that democratic leaders are not still trying to create a new establishment.

It is also widely believed that there are multiple factions within GHQ who are struggling to define the future path of Pakistan military strategy. There is the pro-US group who sees the best results from cooperation  with the West to defeat militants and improve access to global economic markets. There is the pro-China group who thinks the US is yesterday’s ally and wants to concentrate on relations with China’s military as an antidote to Indian military expansion. And then, of course, there is the cold war leftover group who hangs onto to Zia-era ideology of jihad.

Could it be that this operation in Abbottabad was carried out with the cooperation of the civilian government and some elements of the military while keeping the cold warriors in the dark? That’s what it’s looking like to me. This would explain a few things, certainly.

1. Last fall when a US helicopter crossed the border on a ‘hot pursuit’ chase in Upper Kurram, Pakistan soldiers fired at it. In Abbottabad, no soldiers fired on multiple helicopters carrying US special forces.

2. Abbottabad is not Mozang Chungi. It would take more than a Raymond Davis to gather the intelligence needed to orchestrate such a strike, and the idea that this level of intelligence gathering could be done without the cooperation of Pakistani intelligence is hard to believe.

Details are still not known and it’s going to be a while for the full story to come out. But it’s worth trying to figure out logically what the story is here. I don’t know what is going on, but I suspect there is something that is not being said out loud that is far more interesting than what is being discussed on TV. One possibility is that the civilian government and reasonable people in the military have formed an alliance to move beyond the obstacles created by leftover cold warriors and finally settle this war once and for all. This would not be announced so publicly, though, because it has probably ruffled a few feathers and now there are meetings being held to explain this new arrangement.

People love to complain about President Zardari, but he’s managed to get some things right. The 18th Amendment was an important move to undo power consolidation under dictators. But if President Zardari can manage to reconfigure the relationship between the establishment and the government in a way that similarly undoes the damage caused by past dictators, then he will have pulled off the one coup that Pakistan has desperately needed.

Will The Political Establishment Wake Up?

This post by Agha Haider Raza was originally published at his blog on 12 January 2011.

Our country is at a crossroad.  Pakistan has come to a point where thousands believe they are righteous and have divine authority to carry out God’s acts on this earth.  The repugnant response by the supporters of Salman Taseer’s alleged killer has truly been mesmerizing.  Qadri’s fan base has distorted Islam to such an extent that it has become laughable to comprehend how they perceive themselves to be protecting the sanctity of Islam.  Are they protecting the very Islam, which teaches that murder of one human is the equivalent of killing mankind? Are they protecting the very Islam, which allows for questions over ambiguity? Are they protecting the very Islam that believes in modernity and equality for all? The unfortunate reality today is the religious parties although do not have the political capital; they have influence over our society.  These parties need to be exposed to the Pakistani public through education and the media.  Their dangerous interpretation of Islam needs to be questioned and highlighted.  Many in our country have been manipulated through religion and this should not be tolerated anymore.  This twisted ideology has taken too many innocent lives in our country.  Surely this madness needs to come to an end?

Mumtaz QadriMuch has been discussed, gossiped and publicized on Governor Salmaan Taseer’s inhumane assassination a week ago.  Above the chorus about the Governors personality, character and political viewpoint, what I find completely baffling is the absence of condemning cold-blooded murder.  I am not talking about the monotonous paragraph that has appeared on behalf of our government officials denouncing the murder, “we condemn the killing…will investigate”.  What we need from our ‘democratically elected’ leaders is, showcase to Pakistani’s around the country the draconian way of life many of our ‘religious scholars’ have adopted.

I find it highly unfortunate that the President of Pakistan and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Asif Zardari, has not used stronger words to deplore the heinous act.  Furthermore, only two politicians, Imran Khan and Shujaat Hussain have linked Taseer’s murder to the growing extremism that many of the political establishment enjoys turning a blind eye towards.  Murder is not justified – under any circumstances.

Those who argue that Islam has no place for modernity are incorrect.  The Prophet (PBUH) was a 7th century Arab who married an older businesswoman.  He broke with tradition.  The Prophet broke idols that were in the Kaa’ba.  He broke with tradition.  The Prophet stopped female infanticide during his time.  He broke with tradition.  Islam was introduced at a time of jahaliyat and it was Prophet Muhammad who brought about a social change, expanding the concept of modernity.  Why have we been estranged from the very foundation of Islam?

What is the purpose of believing in the Day of Judgment if we are judging people and deciding their fate in this world? Is it not blasphemous for Qadri to be carrying out God’s work? If Taseer was wrong in what he said or did, why was Qadri allowed to take away the Governor’s opportunity of repentance?  Is it not blasphemous of Qadri to kill a human being when (in Islam) only God is the decider of our destiny?

The clergy has always been a powerful institution throughout history.  One cannot deny the power and sway they maintain, but in a religion where we believe that God has the divine authority, I find it hard to believe how a moderate country like Pakistan has allowed the ‘right Ummah’ to become the ‘righteous Ummah’.

It also seems very hypocritical that we seem to merrily criticize any other religion on this earth.  We mock the Jews, pass judgment on the concept of the Holy Trinity and laugh at believers who worship their own deities.  And yet, when it comes to Islam, we don’t stand for any religious tolerance.  How does one expect others to respect our religion when we don’t return the favour?  What right do we have in condemning Aasia Bibi (who is a Christian) for blasphemy, when we are guilty of the same charge when it comes to her religion?  Have we forgotten what the white stripe represents on our national flag?

The rising bourgeoisie in Pakistan needs to be exposed to heinous crimes that are being committed at the beck and call of the religious right.  Such parties are entitled to voice their opinions and sentiment, but they are not allowed to instigate violence.  The religious party (JuI) has been active prior to partition (1947).  They have never been able to secure the Federal Government.  If Pakistan believed in the ideology the religious parties put forward, we would have been a very different country today.  It is in fact, the Pakistan Peoples Party, a grassroots, liberal, secular party that is not surprisingly, the largest political party as well.

The Establishment needs to wake up and smell the putrid air that has encompassed Pakistan.  Pakistan no longer believes in their concept of ‘strategic depth’, Pakistani’s don’t want any further deaths in Kashmir, Pakistani’s don’t want to fund madrassah’s that mass produce suicide bombers.  It is the very seed that was planted decades ago, which we reap today.  It is the very ideology that was preached during the 1980s, which convinced the alleged assassin Mumtaz Qadri to empty two magazines on Governor Taseer.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are no doubt a very sensitive issue.  But so was the Hudood Ordinance, which was rectified by Parliament.  Pakistan went through a very turbulent period under General Zia-ul-Haq.  Laws were incorporated that reeked of a very conservative and distorted form of Islam.  But as the Governor rightly said, these are ‘man-made laws, not God-made laws’.  They can and should be amended.  The Political Establishment needs to challenge and enlighten those parties, groups and individuals who believe in suicide bombings, murder and religious intolerance.

Governor Taseer was murdered for what he rightly believed in a law that is dangerous to a prosperous society.  This law has been interpreted to a point where a citizen believes it is lawful to murder another citizen.  The blasphemy laws have been interpreted in a manner, where a citizen believes he does not need to respect the law enforcement agencies, the judicial courts or the legislative authority of Parliament.  Max Weber famously articulated that a state solely possesses a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.  When the power of violence shifts from the state to the people, we also see a shift from a state to anarchy.

Maybe this is what President Zardari meant when he awkwardly stated, Mumtaz Qadri threatened democratic institutions.  The only logical explanation would be that if the blasphemy laws can be interpreted in a manner that threatens institutions, would it not be appropriate to repeal or amend such a law?