Benazir’s Death in Crisistan

Sixty Years Gone, More Sad is Its Plight

By B. R. GOWANI

It will probably be a long time before any clue as to who murdered the opposition leader and the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (while she was leaving the political rally after addressing a gathering in Rawalpindi) is found. Were they the enemies of Bhutto in the intelligence agencies or were they the Islamic radicals? According to the hospital people, the government hadn’t permitted them to do an autopsy.

Pakistani Government claimed through its interior ministry spokesman Brigadier (retd.) Javed Iqbal Cheema that Benazir died not because of a gun shot or bomb shrapnel but when she tried to reach for a safety “the lever [of her SUV's sunroof] struck near her right ear and fractured her skull!” For the bomb blast and the gun shots, Cheema said there was “irrefutable evidence” that South Waziristan-based Al-Qaeda leader Beitullah Mehsud is the central culprit. To further strengthen its case, the government also released the transcript of Mehsud’s telephone conversation, which it had intercepted, where he is congratulating a cleric on Bhutto’s murder. But the government hasn’t released the recording.

However Mehsud’s spokesperson Maulana Mohammed Umer denied the accusation. “The fact is that we are only against America, and we don’t consider political leaders of Pakistan our enemy. The suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto was not launched by us.” He further added, “I am clarifying our position after receiving instructions from Baitullah Mehsud.”

Usually, the militants, when they are involved, do accept responsibility for their action in order to enhance their base by creating more fear among the population. Or, perhaps, Mehsud is behind the attack but wants to avoid opening up a third front against Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). (The two fronts they are fighting on are the US and the Pakistani Government.)

Vice versa, it can be that PPP may have some suspicions about Mehsud or some other fundamentalist group but don’t want any entanglement at the present time.

Before returning from her self-exile, Benazir had told the Guardian that “I’m not worried about Baitullah Mahsud; I’m worried about the threat within the government.” Because in her opinion, “people like Baitullah Mahsud are just pawns. It is those forces behind him that have presided over the rise of extremism and militancy in my country.”

The PPP is also pointing a finger at the government. Its spokesperson Sherry Rehman said “there was a clear bullet wound at the back of the neck. It went in one direction and came out another.”

However, the US government suspects Mehsud’s group was behind Bhutto’s assassination. The FBI has offered to help but Pakistan has declined the offer. The FBI is good at extracting confessions.

(This author doesn’t know how to operate a gun or any such weapon and is not familiar with making bombs or conceiving terroristic plots. Nevertheless, if the FBI (or the CIA) were to pick him up and then torture and beat the hell out of him, he would confess whatever they would want him to; even to be the mastermind behind the 9/11. Torture usually does have the power to extract the truth; the one which the torturer would want to hear.

Whoever was behind Bhutto’s murder, one has to accept the fact that the real culprit cannot be anyone else but the Musharraf Government. Just in October, 148 people died during the welcoming procession in Karachi upon Benazir’s return after a long self-imposed exile. At that time, undoubtedly, it was a difficult task to provide adequate security due to the number of people (200,000) and the vast area involved and a number of other factors, including Bhutto’s own fault. But this time around, it was possible for the government to provide her with proper security as it was in a park, and that also not a big one, with less than 10,000 people, especially when the world was watching.

(As a last resort, filmmaker Oliver Stone should be asked to solve the mystery. He has done it once before in the Kennedy assassination case, though not very neatly, according to people familiar with history. But still what’s the harm.

Musharraf declared a three day mourning period and the flying of the flag at half mast. But this dramatic gesture doesn’t absolve him from culpability.

Cheema seems to be a nice person: “There are other people who are under threat and whenever we receive information we pass it on to the concerned people.” Nawaz Sharif, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Aftab Sherpao, Amir Muqam, and Sheikh Rashid Ahmed were the names he gave.

Or is it that the warner and the killer are one and the same?

Player Becomes a Pawn

Up until December 27, Bhutto was one of the central players in this US led game of power-sharing or transfer of power to a civilian administration in Pakistan. The minute she died, she became just a pawn in this cruel game of politics. The US media became hyperactive and it seemed as if Condoleezza Rice or Hillary Clinton had been murdered. It resembled somewhat to the eulogistic dramas played out during Lady Diana’s and Mother Teresa’s deaths. The only thing missing was the live telecast of the funeral ceremony; but that was because of the volatile situation in Pakistan. The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates blurted out, each according to her/his knowledge and understanding or lack of it on Bhutto’s assassination.

Bush paid tribute. Musharraf also said nice words. The other major opposition leader in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, felt sad on losing his major opponent whom he called “sister.”

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