Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto assassinated, questions arise

[Many updates below.]

Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister, and political enemy of President Musharraf because of her wishes to be the harbinger of democray in Pakistan, was assassinated today. As anyone who follows Pakistan can tell you, this is bad.

Before continuing with this post, let me note that I have only seen headlines and heard radio reports about her assassination at this point -- I have yet to read an article. But given two key facts that I've already gleaned -- this was done by a suicide attacker at close range and in the city of Rawalpindi -- my instincts scream to me that there's a strong possiibility that the Pakistani military had some involvement in this.

We had to write a paper on an international situation for my world politics class last semester, and I choose to research power struggles in Pakistan. It's a topic I've followed for a while. Rawalpindi came up in my paper since, in 2003, it's where two failed assassination attempts on Musharraf's life were executed. So here's what I had to say about the city a month ago:
It is bad enough that the normal amount of security that President Musharraf employs failed to stop [the assassination attempts] from happening, but his security situation looks more desperate when you take into account that the December, 2003 assassination attempts took place Rawalpindi, a city which is the seat of military power in Pakistan. Being located less than ten miles to the south of Islamabad, the city is home to a Pakistan Army corps that can hold sway in any potential coup, so leaders of Pakistan always appoint a general they can trust to run the Rawalpindi Corps (also known as “10 Corps” and “X Corps”). Case in point, one of the last commanders of the Rawalpindi Corps was General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani –- the man President Musharraf just picked to replace himself as the Chief of Staff for Pakistan's Army.

Attesting to the military power of the Rawalpindi, Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, formerly an envoy to Islamabad from India, said the assassination attempts “took place in the most heavily militarized portion of any town in Pakistan”; and he added, “it is inconceivable that such a thing could be done without certain sections within the army conniving or assisting, or both” (Hindustan Times).

These assassination attempts could not have been launched, nevermind come close to being successful, without help from members of Pakistan's military and intelligence apparatuses being sympathetic to Islamic extremists. It is not surprising that some “low-ranking air force and army officers” were later arrested for their complicity in the assassination attempts (McGirk). Even though the sum of sympathizes could be tiny, assassination attempts like these show the massive power they wield that could potentially change the government of Pakistan. Such a government installed by Islamic extremist sympathizers would have an enormous negative effect on Middle Eastern and Central Asian affairs.
This might be the most important story of the year, and I'll be keeping a close eye on developments. But if I were to place a bet in assigning blame for this tragedy, my implications would go straight to the top. I know such accusations have to be proven, but Bhutto's assassination could have Musharraf's dirty fingerprints all over it. Let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised if he was involved.

[Update - 10:35] It was an explosion that killed Bhutto and 20 of her followers. Afterwards, iit was followed by gunshots.

Around 10:15 thiis morning, BBC World Service reported on the security situation wiith Bhutto rallies. The BBC said that the Bhutto campaign complained about not getting extra police and "jammers" from the Pakistani government; but the government did warn the Bhutto campaign of terrorist threats towards her rallies.

The "jammers" portion of that report is most important. The BBC referred to electronic jamming equipment that delays bombs from going off. The United States provided this jamming technology to President Musharraf in 2003 (as noted in the book, "The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism," on page 77). And the jamming equipment saved Musharraf's life -- in Rawalpindi -- during the first assassination attempt in him in December, 2003; it delayed a bomb planted under a bridge that Musharraf's limo was passing over.

So if Musharraf's government had such jamming equipment since 2003, and the saved Musharraf's life in Rawalpindi, why wasn't such equipment provided to Bhutto when she visited Rawalpindi?

[Update - 10:45] Over at Newshoggers, Shamanic notes that a sniper opened fire on a rally for Nawaz Shariif, also in Rawalpindi. This attack took place before the suicide bombing of Bhutto. Dawn, Pakistan's leading English daily, reports that these attacks left four dead.

[Update - 10:50] The question of jamming equipment may be elementary at this point. BBC World Service just reported that Bhutto was shot in the neck before a suicide bomber blew himself up. At this point, I'm not sure how many people were involved in the attacks or what the direct cause of Bhutto's death was.

[Update - 11:15] The Independent talked with Bhutto's security adviser, who confirms reports I heard on BBC World Service:
Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser, said she was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up.
Though, as noted in the next paragraph, some people question this story:
But Javed Iqbal Cheema, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told state-run Pakistan Television that Bhutto died when a suicide bomber struck her vehicle. At least 20 others were killed in the blast, an Associated Press reporter at the scene saw.
Malik also discusses the jammers that Musharraf's government neglected to provide for Bhutto:
"We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment including jammers, but they paid no heed to our requests," Malik said.
Like I said before, the questiion of whether or not jammers would have helped might be elementary at this point -- if Bhutto was shot in the neck before the explosion, as reported by BBC World Service, then there's not much a jammer could have done about that. But the fact that Musharraf's government dragged their feet on Bhutto's security requests should be telling.

Bhutto's supporters got the message from Musharraf's government, apparently. The Independent article details their reaction after the attack:
As news of her death spread, supporters at the hospital in Rawalpindi smashed glass doors and stoned cars. Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of complicity in her killing.

Angry supporters also took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well as other areas, chanting slogans against Musharraf. In Rawalpindi, the site of the attack, Bhutto's supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled from the scene.

In Karachi, shop owners quickly closed their businesses as supporters from Bhutto's party burned tires on the roads. [...]

Some at the hospital began chanting, "Killer, Killer, Musharraf," referring to Musharraf, Bhutto's main political opponent. A few began stoning cars outside.

[Update 11:40] Last update for now as the mundanity normal life interludes: I must run to the laundrymat to wash clothes so I have something to wear at work tonight. (My boss hates it when I go in naked.) There wiill be no shortage of coverage about this story today from any news blog or service that you goto. Your best bets are The Newshoggers (for more "op/ed" type coverage -- much like you see here), Raw Story (which has a great run down of headlines on the frontpage), and TPM.

[Crossposted from Sugar Land is Dreaming.]

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At December 27, 2007 11:22 AM , Blogger Mr. L said...

I disagree with you on military involvement from the top down. In terms of the jamming equipment, there is no reason that she should receive such special treatment. Assassination attempts are a fact of life for third-world dictators, and for politicians in general. In such a chaotic country, it is possible for any of the myriad radical groups to successfully execute an assassination. I have no doubt that there was some military involvement in the attack, but there is military involvement in everything there. You can't wipe your ass in Pakistan without having a colonel sign off on it. I personally think that Bhutto's party will win the parliament now because of sympathy from this assassination. Her supporters are hopeful that she will become a martyr for the cause.

At December 27, 2007 11:48 AM , Blogger Tucker said...

Hm. While dnager is a fact of life for the politiciians iin countries like Pakistan, I think that Musharraf's seemingly constant indifference to Bhutto's security requests says, at the very least, that he didn't give a crap if she died.

The fact that these attacks took place in Rawalpindi leaves a lot of big places for blame to go, though none of them are conclusive. The military has been subverted by military members to try and assassinate Musharraf there, as we saw in 2003. But this is a reminder that the military still has control in Rawalpindi, and who has more control over the Pakistani military than Musharraf? While the 2003 assassination attempts were comitted by, essentially, bad apples, Musharraf has more power to do whatever he wants in the ciity.

Then, of course, there's the ISI -- controlled by the Pakistani military. Could they be involved?

As for short term reaction to this, I don't think it will help the PPP in elections -- I don't think there will be elections there now, actually. If anything, these attacks edge Pakistan closer to civil war. This country wasn't stable in the first place, and now it might become a shitstorm.

At December 28, 2007 12:38 PM , Blogger Vox Populi said...

Right. Now they're saying she hit her head and she's already buried. hmmmmm


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