Zardari gives safe exit to potential Bhutto killer


LAHORE: Pakistani President Asif Zardari has finally conceded being part of an international deal to grant safe exit to a person (General Pervez Musharraf) who had been named by none other than his slain wife Benazir Bhutto as her would-be assassin [in her October 26, 2007 email to Mr. Wolf Blitzer of the CNN].

Bhutto’s husband, who became the President of Pakistan following Musharraf’s exit last year, stated at an iftar dinner-cum- meeting with senior newsmen that foreign powers with interest in the South Asian region had guaranteed a safe exit to his predecessor, and he too had been party to the deal that was struck at the time of General Musharraf’s resignation in 2008. A belated denial issued on Wednesday by the presidential spokesman two days after the President’s meeting with the media people claims that Asif Zardari’s remarks have been distorted and misrepresented. However, many of the journalists who had attended the presidential iftar-dinner-meeting insist that President Zardari did talk about the safe exit deal in detail as per which Musharraf was to play golf in his post-presidential life.

President Asif Zardari’s statement actually explains as to why the high-profile Benazir Bhutto murder case has been thrown into cold storage despite the installation of a PPP government in Islamabad and the elevation of Zardari as the most powerful civilian President of Pakistan. It also explains the reluctance on part of the PPP government in Islamabad to proceed against any of the Bhutto murder suspects, especially General Pervez Musharraf, who had been named by Bhutto as her would be assassin in an e-mail which was made public by none other than Asif Zardari.

Addressing his first press conference after the murder, Bhutto’s widower had made public her October 20, 2007 email to Wolf Blitzer of the CNN, naming her would-be assassin. ‘This e-mail should be treated as Shaheed Benazir’s dying declaration. She talks about her murderers from her grave and it is up to the world to listen to the echoes’, Zardari had said. 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 e-mail on October 26, 2007 from Mark Siegel, a friend and long-time Washington spokesman for Benazir Bhutto. That was eight days after she narrowly escaped an attempt on her life in Karachi upon her homecoming on October 18, 2007. Bhutto wrote to Wolf: ‘I have been made to feel insecure by Musharraf’s minions’.

Benazir Bhutto had pointed out in her mail that she had not received the requested improvements to her security and was being prevented from using private cars or vehicles equipped with tinted windows. Bhutto 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. According to Mark Siegel, Benazir Bhutto had asked permission to bring in trained security personnel from abroad. In fact, she and her husband repeatedly tried to get visas for such protection but the Pakistan government denied them again and again. Siegel said a US-based security agency Blackwater and a London-based firm Armor Group, which guards British diplomats in the Middle East, were not allowed to protect Benazir Bhutto. She urged General Musharraf to improve her security after the Karachi suicide attack, besides requesting American and British diplomats to pressurize him in providing adequate security to her. But General Pervez Musharraf never listened.

Benazir Bhutto’s security concerns and General Musharraf’s refusal to address them have already been highlighted by a Pulitzer Prize winning 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 General 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 phone calls, prior to her arrival in Pakistan, in a bid to play under-the-table, cut-throat games more effectively. About those bugging Bhutto, Suskind writes on Page 293 of the book: -“What they’ll 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”.

The book disclosed details of Bhutto’s meeting with Senator John Kerry requesting for her security and his reply that “United States is generally hesitant to ensure the protection of anyone who is not a designated leader”. In a subsequent interview on August 15, 2008, Suskind quoted Bhutto as having told him: “I’ve got two enemies who have been in an unholy alliance for many years now – dictatorial power and messianic radicalism, and I have no protection. Why? Because Dick Cheney won’t make the phone call! Why? Explain it to me, the idea that they assured me Cheney would make the call to General Musharraf simply to say, ‘You’re the dictator, make sure she is protected. She has to make it to election-day. If she doesn’t, we’re going to hold you responsible.’” Narrating Musharraf’s message to Bhutto that her safety “is based on the state of our relationship”, Suskind said: “It was all but like a Mafia threat. And this is something that the US, frankly, deep down understands, too. They let this process unfold. And ultimately, folks around Bhutto now are saying that she was abandoned by America”.

However, 20 months after her tragic murder in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, her husband keeps insisting that only the United Nations could carry out a credible investigation of the murder, despite the fact that a spokesman of the UN commission has already made it clear that its mandate would be to inquire into the circumstances of the murder. On December 27, 2008, while speaking on the first anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, President Zardari had claimed that he knew the killers of Benazir and that he would reveal their identity at the right time. On July 6, 2009, Zardari blamed Musharraf for the Bhutto murder claiming that she died by a bullet and not by the bomb. “I wish Musharraf had looked after my wife as I can look after myself,” Asif Zardari told British newspaper The Telegraph in an interview.

However, two months after the Telegraph interview, Zardari has explained, though indirectly, as to why his government was not ready to proceed against Musharraf either on treason or on murder charges.

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