Benazir Bhutto murder: Govt reluctant to move against Musharraf



Although the Sindh government has registered a fresh FIR (First Information Report) of the October 18, 2007 suicide attacks on the welcome rally of the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi, implicating three persons she had suspected when she was alive, the central government seems reluctant to proceed against the former President General (retd) Musharraf, who had been named by Bhutto herself as her would-be assassin in her Oct 26, 2007 email to Mr. Wolf Blitzer of the CNN.

The second FIR of the Karsaz carnage that claimed over 150 lives was lodged by the Bahadurabad police on the eve of the first anniversary of the twin suicide attacks followed by President Asif Zardari’s statement that those responsible would be punished. Benazir had reportedly mentioned three names in her letter written to Musharraf before her homecoming and maintained that they should be held responsible if she was hurt. However, almost ten months after Bhutto’s murder, there is an intriguing reluctance on the part of the PPP government to proceed against the prime suspect. The husband of the twice elected slain Prime Minister, Zardari, keeps insisting that only the United Nations can carry out a credible inquiry into the murder, despite the fact that the PPP rules the roost in Islamabad and he himself wields enormous influence to order and supervise a reliable inquiry.

In a significant development last week, Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza, who was the incharge of Bhutto’s security at the time of her murder, had stated that Musharraf was involved in the murder of the PPP chairperson. However, a day after his statement the Sindh government decided to register a fresh FIR of the Karsaz bombing instead of proceeding against Musharraf. Those named in the FIR include Lt Gen (retd) Hameed Gul, a former chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Brig (retd) Ejaz Hussain Shah, a former chief of the Punjab chapter of the ISI and former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The FIR No: 213/08 was registered under Sections 302, 324, 427, 34ppc, 3/4, 109 and 102b, all related to murder, attempt to murder, bomb blast, terrorist acts and the Explosive Act.

Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi

However, the move has only strengthened the general perception that Musharraf has been given indemnity by the PPP leadership as a result of a clandestine deal which had led to his resignation and the subsequent elevation of Zardari to the coveted slot of the president. As a matter of fact, Benazir’s tragic assassination on December 27, 2007 in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, hardly a few kilometers from the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army and the head office of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), raised two key questions: Who orchestrated her murder and what were the motives behind? And it was none other than Bhutto herself who had attempted to address these two crucial queries in her pre-murder email message to Wolf Blitzer.

Addressing his first press conference after the murder, it was Asif Zardari who had made public his wife’s October 26, 2007 email to Blitzer which mentioned Musharraf as her would-be assassin. “This e-mail should be treated as Bhutto’s dying declaration. She talks about her murderers from the grave and it is up to the world to listen to the echoes”, Asif Zardari had said at that time, his words drenched in emotion.

Benazir Bhutto wrote to Wolf Blitzer in her e-mail: “If it is God’s will, nothing will happen to me. But if anything happened to me, I would hold Pervez Musharraf responsible”. Blitzer received the email from Mark Siegel, a friend and long-time Washington spokesman for Benazir. That was eight days after she had narrowly escaped an attempt on her life on Oct 18, 2007 when her welcome rally in Karachi was attacked by suicide bombers. Bhutto wrote to Wolf: “I have been made to feel insecure by Musharraf’s minions”.

Ms. Bhutto pointed out in the same email that she has not received the requested improvements to her security and was being prevented from using private cars or vehicles equipped with tinted windows. She added that she had also not been provided with signal jammers to prevent remote controlled bombs or with police mobile outriders to cover her vehicle on all sides. Mark Siegel claimed soon after the murder that Benazir Bhutto had asked permission to bring in trained security personnel from abroad.

“In fact, following the Karachi assassination attempt, she repeatedly tried to get visas for such protection but the Pakistan government denied them again and again. American Blackwater operation and the London-based firm Armor Group, which guards British diplomats in the Middle East, were not allowed to protect Bhutto. She, therefore, urged General Musharraf to improve her security after the Karachi suicide bomb attack, besides requesting American and British diplomats to pressurize Musharraf in providing adequate security to her. But he turned a deaf ear”, Mark Siegel had stated soon after the murder.

Bhutto’s security concerns and Musharraf’s refusal to address them have recently been highlighted by a well-known American journalist Ron Suskind, in his book titled “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in An Age of Extremism”, published in August 2008. The book is full of disclosures, with its fair portion about Musharraf-Benazir conversation including Musharraf’s quote “You should understand something, your security is based on the state of our relationship”.

The writer disclosed that the American intelligence agencies had taped Bhutto’s and Musharraf’s telephonic conversations, prior to her arrival in Pakistan, in a bid to play under-the-table, cut-throat games more effectively. Musharraf had no idea he was being taped and sounds harsh, a dictator talking to a politician he despises. About those bugging Bhutto, Suskind writes: “What they overlook is the context and her tone in the many calls they eavesdrop on – overlook the fact that she’s scared and preparing for the possibility of imminent death”

Benazir Bhutto must have many powerful enemies in the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment as well as the militant organisations, who first wanted to stop her homecoming and her subsequent political comeback and later wished her to be eliminated physically. By her own estimate, no fewer than different jehadi groups backed by certain powerful elements in the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments wanted her dead within hours of her homecoming. However, Bhutto herself was convinced that the most serious attempt on her life, carried out on October 18, 2007 on her welcome rally in Karachi could not have been possible without the consent of President Musharraf.

On November 13, 2007, hardly a few weeks before her murder, Benazir told this scribe in a one-on-one meeting in Lahore that the Karachi attack could not have been possible without Musharraf’ blessings. In her exclusive conversation at the Lahore residence of Senator Latif Khosa a few hours before being put under house arrest by the Musharraf regime in a bid to prevent her from leading a long March on Islamabad, Bhutto said she knew fully even before returning home that an attempt would be made on her life. “I have come to know after investigations by my own sources that the October 18 attack was masterminded by some highly placed officials in Pakistani security and intelligence establishments. My enemies in the establishment had first engaged an al-Qaeda linked militant leader who in turn hired one Maulvi Abdul Rehman Otho alias Abdul Rehman Sindhi – to execute the Karachi attack”, Bhutto disclosed.

She said the information she has acquired showed that some local militants were hired by the high and mighty in the intelligence establishment to carry out the Karachi attack. “I have come to know that three local militants were hired to carry out the bombing and one Maulvi Abdul Rehman Otho alias Abdul Rehman Sindhi [an al-Qaeda linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant from Dadu district of Sindh]was entrusted with the task of executing the entire operation”.

According to her sources, Benazir said, Abdul Rehman had actually been hired by some highly placed officials in the establishment to carry out the October 18, 2007 suicide attack which she thought was impossible otherwise keeping in view the assurances given to her about the high level security being provided to her. Giving further details, Bhutto said, Abdul Rehman Sindhi [who was reportedly arrested by the law enforcement agencies on June 2004 from Khuda Ki Basti in Kotri near Hyderabad district of Sindh on terrorism charges]was mysteriously released before her homecoming, citing lack of evidence to prosecute him and thus keep him behind bars any further.

Bhutto said, while realizing her mistake after the Karachi attack, she had already written another letter to someone important, primarily to name her would-be assassins. Asked if she had named Pervez Musharraf in that letter and to whom, the letter was addressed, Bhutto smiled and said: “Mind one thing, all those elements in the establishment who stand to lose power and influence in the post-election set up are after me, including the General. I can’t give you more details at this stage. However, you can name Musharraf as my assassin if I am killed”.

Bhutto said she was in London when she first came to know of a conspiracy to kill her upon her homecoming. “Having come to know of the plot, I instantly wrote a letter to Musharraf, naming three persons in the establishment possibly conspiring to kill me, seeking appropriate action against them. However, it could not occur to me at that time that I was actually committing a blunder and in a way signing my own death warrant by not naming my number one enemy as one of my possible assassins. It later dawned upon me that Musharraf could have possibly exploited my letter to his advantage and orchestrated my physical elimination”, she had added.

Strangely enough, however, having assumed power in her name, Bhutto’s closest aides including President Asif Zardari, seem to have lost interest in pursuing her murder case which has apparently run into a dead end. However, official circles in Islamabad refute this impression, saying the PPP government was determined to ensure an UN-sponsored probe into the murder and was hopeful about the setting up of the probe commission in the near future.

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