Everyone I know -- even non-political folk -- viewed the holiday season as a brief respite. They seemed to sense that various forms of hell -- personal hell, economic hell, political hell -- would break loose after Christmas. Now, as if to confirm those fears, we have the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the rightful leader of Pakistan. This attack followed hard upon the attempted assassination of her rival, former Pakistani Prime MinisterNawaz Sharif.
Bhutto was hardly a saint. She and her husband stood accused of corruption. Her husband did eight years in prison on charges of money laundering, during which time he was apparently tortured. (It seems that when Bhutto was Prime Minister in the 1990s, her husband took bribes from a French aircraft manufacturer who supplied new fighter jets to Pakistan. ) More important, as far as Americans are concerned, is the fact that she initially saw the Taliban as a force for stability in Afghanistan.
But she turned against the Taliban, against Al Qaeda (which has made Pakistan its headquarters) and against the dictatorial Pervez Musharraf, who maintains the firm backing of the United States government. Tainted as she was, Benazir Bhutto remained her country's best hope for democracy.
Any democratically-elected leader of that country would, of necessity, adopt an anti-U.S. tone, since Bush has rendered our nation so thoroughly unloved. Nevertheless, the majority of Pakistanis dislike the jihadist movement, and would have supported any Bhutto campaign against Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda always loathed her, just as they loathe the very concept of democracy.
W has danced an unfathomably strange dance with Pervez Musharraf. The administration views him as a necessary figure and a close ally, even as he plays host to Osama Bin Laden. Many rank-and-file jihadis in Pakistan hold Musharraf in genuine disdain. Yet the Pakistani military -- Musharraf's base of power -- maintains uncomfortably close ties to Al Qaeda, ties which few Americans choose to notice.
Most Americans will accept Bush's assertions that we must continue to support the current Pakistani regime. But I can't see how a truly democratic government could possibly have done worse than Musharraf has done on the question of terror.
So who killed Bhutto?
Obviously, Musharraf has the most to gain. He knows that, even if he chooses to postpone elections, he can count on Bush's support. In fact, the murder may help the Republican party as much as it will help Musharraf. (Many are now talking about Rudy benefiting from this tragedy. The Bush administration, which did everything it could to prevent Bhutto from regaining power, will now claim her as a martyr to the cause of freedom!)
A key fact: The assassination took place in Rawalpindi, which is carefully controlled by the military. Bhutto was shot -- either entering her car, or while speaking to a crowd from a van (reports differ) -- just before a suicide bomber blew himself up. The bomber effectively provided cover for the shooter, presuming that they were two separate individuals.
An early report holds that Al Qaeda claims responsibility
An obscure Italian Web site said Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, told its reporter in a phone call, "We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahedeen."
Although that report may prove dubious, no-one can deny that the jihadis have always despised Benazir Bhutto. Thus, our best (albeit tentative) first theory would have to be one in which elements of the Pakistani military/intelligence apparat conspired with the jihadis to murder Bhutto.
Readers may want to consult an earlier Cannonfire piece
on the previous attack on Bhutto. Unfortunately, the video interview which gave rise to that post is no longer available. In that interview, Bhutto did not offer a simplistic "blame the terrorists" scenario:
After talking about the horrific violence that greeted her return to Pakistan, she accuses three men of planning the attacks. Then she narrows her focus on one particular suspect. Although she never names him, her obvious target is Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, the former head of the ISI, Pakistan's version of the CIA. Mahmood (sometimes spelled Mehmood) has correctly been called "the most taboo suspect of all 9/11 suspects."
That "most taboo suspect" must now be considered the chief suspect in the killing of Benazir Bhutto.
Ahmed is a more ominous figure than most Americans realize. He has been credibly linked with the funding of Mohammed Atta, the chief 9/11 terrorist.
But even that
is not the worst of it. If I may be forgiven further self-quotation:
Why has the administration (and, to a large extent, the media) refused to go after General Mahmood? Good question.
The ISI Director worked closely with the CIA for many years, and it is known that he met with Richard Armitage, a key player in the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations. (Armitage helped stop Valerie Plame's efforts against nuke proliferation, and signed the infamous PNAC letter which laid the groundwork for the Iraq debacle.) Various conflicting news stories (see here) picture Mahmood as helping both the Taliban and the White House in the days before and after 9/11.
As you have probably already guessed, the drug trade appears to be the major factor linking Mahmood, the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, and American covert forces. Pakistan was and is at the heart of a massive drug network. In March of 2002, Vanity Fair reported that the ISI controlled this underground economy.
The following words now carry the chill of dark prophecy:
Mahmood has highly-placed American allies. And that is why I doubt that Bhutto -- who obviously wants to bring Mahmood to justice -- will be allowed to prevail in Pakistan's turmoil.
I wrote that passage on November 3. Before the year ended, Bhutto was prevented from ever again playing a role in Pakistan's future.