Mysterious Crowd Stopped Bhutto's Car
Two new reports suggest that the assassination Benazir Bhutto may have been the result of an ambitious plot, rather than an isolated act:
Two new reports on the assassination last month of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto suggest that the killing may have been an ambitious plot rather than an isolated act of violence and that the government of President Pervez Musharraf knows far more than it's admitted about the murder.
A police officer who witnessed the assassination said that a mysterious crowd stopped Bhutto's car that day, moving her to emerge through the sunroof. And a document has surfaced in the Pakistani news media that contradicts the government's version of her death and contains details on the pistol and the suicide bomb used in the murder.
The witness was Ishtiaq Hussain Shah of the Rawalpindi police. As Bhutto's car headed onto Rawalpindi's Liaquat Road after an election rally Dec. 27 , a crowd appeared from nowhere and stopped the motorcade, shouting slogans of her Pakistan Peoples Party and waving party banners, according to his account.
Bhutto, apparently thinking she was greeting her supporters, emerged through the sunroof of the bulletproof car to wave.
It was Shah's job to clear the way for the motorcade. But 10 feet from where he was standing, a man in the crowd wearing a jacket and sunglasses raised his arm and shot at the former prime minister. "I jumped to overpower him," the deputy police superintendent said later. "A mighty explosion took place soon afterwards."
Shah suffered multiple injuries and is recuperating in a Rawalpindi military hospital, guarded by agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
Who organized the crowd is only one of the mysteries two weeks after the assassination. "I don't know who they were or from where they came," the Rawalpindi officer told Dawn newspaper. "They just appeared on the road."
The second report emerged in the Pakistani daily newspaper The News, with detailed information about the pistol and bomb. It rejects the government's conclusion that Bhutto died when the force of the suicide blast threw her head against the sunroof lever of her car. Such an impact couldn't have fractured her skull, it said. The government refused to confirm the report's authenticity, but a security official verified it to McClatchy . He spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
According to the document, which the paper described as a "top agency" preliminary report, a pistol made by Norinco, a Chinese brand, was recovered from the scene, with the lot number 311-90. An MUV-2 triggering mechanism for the bomb also was found, as had been used in 15 previous suicide bombings in Pakistan , with the same lot number and factory code.
"It is a clear indicator that the same terrorist group is involved in almost all these incidents," concluded the report, which the paper quoted at length.
Another mystery of the case is why so valuable a report has been buried. Among its other conclusions: Bhutto's assassin, after shooting her, detonated his own suicide belt. No ambulance was called, and it took 25 minutes to get her to the hospital, only two miles from the scene.
Bhutto, and her security adviser Rehman Malik , had complained repeatedly that she was given inadequate official security, including mobile phone jammers that didn't work and less than the four-vehicle escort that she thought was needed to protect the four corners of her car. In an e-mail to her U.S. lobbyist, Mark Siegel , in late October, Bhutto wrote that if anything happened to her "I would hold Musharraf responsible," in addition to four individuals she named as plotting to kill her in a letter sent to Musharraf on Oct. 16 .
There was no security cordon around Bhutto— who'd escaped a suicide bombing attack Oct. 18 , the day she returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile abroad— as she left the park in Rawalpindi. The crime scene was cleared immediately and hosed down, destroying vital evidence. Doctors at the hospital where she was taken, who announced the night it happened that she'd died of bullet wounds to the head and neck, changed their story the next day. There was no autopsy.
Musharraf's government has stuck to its explanation that Bhutto died when she hit her head on the sunroof's lever after the bomb went off, despite the emergence of several videos that show the gunman firing, then Bhutto disappearing into her vehicle before the blast. Officials also turned up what they said was a transcript of a telephone conversation between the supposed masterminds— militant Islamists allied with the Taliban— congratulating each other, the next day.
Scotland Yard detectives, whom Musharraf called in under pressure from home and abroad, have been told that they're to investigate only the cause of death, not the killer's identity. "Providing clarity regarding 'The precise cause of Ms. Bhutto's death' is said to be the principal purpose of the deployment," said Aidan Liddle , a spokesman for the British High Commission in Islamabad .
To many in Pakistan , it all raises questions about whether the government was complicit in the assassination. To others, it points at the very least to a concerted attempt to hide the massive extent of a security failure.
Bhutto's own private-security arrangements seemed poor, chaotic and amateurish. Armored cars are not fitted with sunroofs. Hers was modified in Karachi against all safety advice, according to a security company that operates in that city but spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. After Bhutto's death, her husband made the startling revelation that she'd been guarded by men he'd met in prison.
I don't think the search for blame is particularly helpful in this case. Yes, it would be important to know if Musharrafs regime orchestrated Bhutto's murder, but if the only evidence we have is that the Pakistani government did not do everything possible to protect Bhutto, that is not particularly useful information. No government on earth can prevent every terrorist atrocity or conspiracy plot. No government on earth can provide adequate 24-hour police protection for every citizen, especially high profile citizens who are known terrorist targets and who would require extraordinary levels of protection. Bhutto did not take every possible precaution for her own safety, either.
If is not clear that Bhutto could have survived even if she had taken extraordinary care for her own safety and even if she had been protected by heavily armed guards 24 hours per day. Would anyone suggest that President Bush, for example, could -- without risk to himself -- attend rallies, join in parades and otherwise move freely around Pakistan the way Bhutto did, simply because he is protected by a heavily armed Secret Service detail?
Bhutto was intentionally murdered. There are plenty of Islamic terrorists in Pakistan whose entire purpose in living is to intentionally murder innocent civilians like Bhutto, particularly when those innocent civilians are harbingers of dreaded democracy. Let the investigation proceed, and let questions be raised, but until someone comes forward with evidence that the Pakistani government deliberately killed Bhutto, claims that the government is responsible for her death are pointless. Only the murderers and their co-conspirators are responsible, period.
What matters is the ongoing struggle by Islamic terrorists to seize total control of Pakistan. That is a battle that the world cannot afford to lose.
Gina Cobb on January 11, 2008 Permalink