Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Assassination's Aftermath: A Round-up of Speculative Comments

B.Raman has a column on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Outlook wherein he names the suspects:

Two versions have been circulating. Both attribute her assassination to Al Qaeda, but claim that Al Qaeda did not carry out the assassination directly, but through its Pakistani trojan horses. One version names the trojan horse as the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) while the other names it as the followers of Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan.”

He goes on to cite several reasons to doubt the latter claim of al-Qaeda acting through the LEJ. Referring to the released transcript of a conversation allegedly involving Baitullah Mehsud, he feels there is some reason to suspect it:

“Col. Cheema further claimed that the investigators had also established that the same group was also responsible for the October 18 attempt to kill [Benazir] at Karachi. For more than two months, they could not make a break-through in the investigation into the October 18 attempt. How suddenly they made a break-through after her assassination at Rawalpindi?”

He also argues that the ‘the loyalists of the late Zia-ul-Haq in the Armed Forces and in the Punjab Government and in the community of retired army and intelligence officers were also equally determined to prevent her from becoming the Prime Minister.’ He goes on to list a variety of questions that remain to be answered. In a column the previous day, he also listed several pieces of evidence suggesting al-Qaeda infiltration of the Pakistani armed forces and the intelligence establishment.

A report in the Washington Post detailing American negotiations with Musharraf and Benazir indicates (what was previously known but perhaps more authoritatively) how the Bush administration’s plan was to create only a façade of democratic governance with her in the PM’s seat as its face. Bob Novak’s column today recalls his conversation with Benazir and chronicles how the messages from Washington may have affected events in Pakistan leading eventually to her death. More disturbingly, Novak thinks that the message could be interpreted as Washington’s willingness to acquiesce in a rigged election. Here is what he says:

“In early December, a former Pakistani government official supporting Bhutto visited a senior U.S. government official to renew Bhutto's security requests. He got a brush-off, a mind-set reflected Dec. 6 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, was asked to respond to fears by nonpartisan American observers of a rigged election. His reply: "I do think they can have a good election. They can have a credible election. They can have a transparent and a fair election. It's not going to be a perfect election." Boucher's words echoed through corridors of power in Islamabad. The Americans' not demanding perfection signaled that they would settle for less. Without Benazir Bhutto around, it is apt to be a lot less.

A more sinister fallout of a free hand from Washington for Pakistan might be Bhutto's murder. Neither her shooting on Thursday nor the attempt on her life Oct. 18 bore the trademarks of al-Qaeda. After the carnage, government trucks used streams of water to clean up the blood and, in the process, destroyed forensic evidence. If not too late, would an offer and acceptance of investigation by the FBI be in order?”

Meanwhile, speculation continues to mount about a botched investigation and a government effort aimed at a cover-up. The Pakistani government has responded to calls for an international investigation by announcing its willingness to accept expert help from other countries though not a full-fledged international investigation (by the UN a la Rafik Hariri in Lebanon). The Guardian has a FAQ item for those wanting to learn about the current status of facts, allegations and theories.

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