Saturday, October 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Plays A Cynical Hand After Karachi Bombing

Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf has intensified the military operation against militants in the northwest after the apparent suicide attack against Benazir Bhutto last week in Karachi which killed 138 people and injured 500 others (more or less; reports vary). The offensive is apparently aimed at the fundamentalist cleric Maulana Fazlullah [photo], known for his fiery radio speeches, who recently has been encouraging his followers to attack police and military targets.

According to one recent report, Pakistani troops have his compound surrounded and have been shelling the area. Meanwhile other reports indicate that he's probably not there, and that the shelling seems directed at the area, not the compound. On Thursday in Swat, an apparent suicide bomber struck a military truck loaded with ammunition, which detonated, and when the smoke had cleared, another 20 people were dead. Or 30, depending on whom you believe.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, police have released two photographs of reconstructed heads they say came from suicide bombers who attacked the procession of Benazir Bhutto.

Benazir Bhutto's family have a long and difficult history in Pakistani politics. Benazir herself has served as Prime Minister twice, returned after living abroad for eight years, apparently to avoid charges of corruption. But she had recently been granted amnesty and a chance to participate in the upcoming elections, in which she is expected to become Prime Minister once again.

This event-in-waiting combined with the presumed ratification by the Supreme Court of President General Musharraf's "election", would supposedly stabilize Pakistani politics. And when President General Musharraf resigns his commission as Army Chief of Staff, this will give Pakistan a "civilian democracy" according to Musharraf and Bhutto and their American "friends".

Even though the police have released photos of the men who allegedly the bombs last week, nobody seems to know anything about them. Who were they? Where did they come from? How were they connected? Or did they just happen to show up at the same time with the same idea?

The mystery has been treated as solved in the Western media; al Qaeda did it. Of course. And how do we know? The modus operandi was reminiscent of other al Qaeda incidents. Two bombs went off; multiple attack is a signature of al Qaeda, so therefore they did it. But two lines of questioning emerge.

First, if these are pictures of two different bombers why do they appear to show damage to the same parts of the face? News reports have made the point that one appears to be clean-shaven whereas the other does not. How hard would it be to take a picture, shave the face, and take another picture, with much different lighting? One cannot help but wonder.

And even more pertinent, perhaps: How hard would it be for another terrorist organization to arrange for two bombs to go off in rapid succession? Nobody even wants to ask that question, let alone answer it. But then again in the Western media nobody wants to admit that there are many terrorist groups in the world and al Qaeda isn't even the most dangerous of them.

For example, a terrorist group bombed an air force base recently. Bombed as in dropped a bomb from an airplane. Did you know that? It was in Sri Lanka and the bombers were Tamil Tigers, aka LTTE, not aka al Qaeda, so you probably didn't even hear about it, did you?

How about this? LTTE are not considered to be connected to al Qaeda but they have been supported by the ISI, Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency. ISI was established by CIA to run covert ops in Pakistan. ISI were sponsors of the Taliban, who allegedly protected al Qaeda. ISI is tightly connected to the Pakistani military and General Pervez Musharraf is Chief of Staff and President and an ally of the US in the Global War on Terror.

Benazir Bhutto, who was apparently the target of the apparent suicide attack, has been making vague accusations against certain elements within the Pakistani government, suggesting that friends of President General Musharraf may have been behind the attack. Benazir Bhutto is a very clever politician.

Others are suggesting that Ms. Bhutto herself was responsible for the carnage. And they do seem to have a point, in more ways than one. What a tangled web.

The attack came after midnight. The procession had been moving since early in the afternoon, and they were only about halfway to their destination. Bhutto, who says she received multiple threats of suicide bombings, was offered a helicopter ride from the airport, but she chose have hundreds of thousands of people walking across the city together for eighteen hours.

Her party, the PPP, had brought people in from elsewhere in the country, as reported by Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:
The crowds were large and enthusiastic. Having bussed in supporters from all parts of Pakistan, officials from Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party had ensured hundreds of thousands were waiting for her. Some might have been there simply because they were told to go, others simply because they were curious. Some had been paid £4 a day – a lot of money to a poor person in Pakistan – to attend. It did not matter. What was essential was that the television cameras that evening would reveal large, noisy crowds and a waving Ms Bhutto making her way through them.
The people were brought in to provide a show of support as well as "security", which not surprisingly turned into a human shield, and an ineffective one at that. Some observers have remarked that Bhutto didn't seem too worried about security. She was provided an armored truck, with a bulletproof shield on top. She had the shield removed and rode on top of the truck, with some of her supporters. Her security forces are said to have apprehended somebody with weapons and another somebody with a suicide vest; those stories have dropped from the horizon as far as I know.

Victoria Schofield was atop the truck when the explosions happened, and she wrote a piece for The Telegraph which begins like this:
It was just after midnight when the first explosion went off, with such force that I was blown out of my seat.

I had been dozing on the upper deck of Benazir Bhutto's open-air bus nine hours after it set off from Karachi's airport, images of the ecstatic crowds that had earlier greeted her in the heat of the day still flashing through my mind.

By now a half-moon was shining, but on the dimly lit streets the crowds roared with excitement as we approached.

Then came the bang. I opened my eyes to find I had been thrown to the floor, surrounded by a dozen others including some of Benazir's relatives, friends and party workers.

My first thought was that it had been an unusually large firework. But Benazir's cousin, just beside me, said: "No, that was a bomb." Our instinct was to get out of the vehicle but in the darkness another voice urged: "Wait, there could be another explosion."

Within the same breath, as we lay huddled together, another, more deafening blast shook the bus and we were showered with what felt like heavy rose petals. Then I realised the chilling truth: they were flakes of human flesh.

Some 139 people among the crowd had been killed, it emerged over the next few hours.
The common line -- delivered by everyone from Pervez Musharraf to Benazir Bhutto to Richard Boucher to John Negroponte to Condoleeza Rice to Dear Leader himself -- goes like this: It must have been fundamentalist Muslim extremist militants who did this because they hate hate hate women and they hate hate hate freedom and they hate hate hate democracy.

Aside from the standard Western line (al Qaeda did it), there's the alternative theory (the Taliban also hate hate hate democracy, you know!) and then perhaps once again the ISI might sneak into the picture, and then perhaps certain unnamed friends of President General Musharraf come into the picture, or at least that's the way Benazir Bhutto is trying to lead us. She's a very clever politician.

More from Victoria Schofield:
Benazir said that she did not believe that her political opponents in the immigrant MQM party were responsible. But she knows that she has other enemies: the religious Right who have never accepted a woman leading a Muslim state; al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters who oppose her Western liberal ideals; rogue elements of the intelligence agencies with no heed for government policy.

And yes, she reminded us, she had received a "friendly" warning that she should not return because an attack would be made. "It was the human shield of the boys walking by the side of the bus who protected us," she said. "And the fact that it was armour-plated. Otherwise we might all have died."

She told how she had managed to escape. Sitting at the back of the lower deck when the first explosion came, "I ducked because my husband had always told me if anything happens to duck."

She had also recalled that attacks often come in twos or threes, so only after the second explosion did she escape to the security Jeep trailing her.
Benazir Bhutto paints herself as a paragon of democracy. But the deal she made with Musharraf -- allowing her to return, probably to a position of power, and granting her amnesty -- is nothing if not anti-democratic. Bhutto always stood as an opponent of the military, but now she's joining with a General, in a "democratic election process" that excludes Nawaz Sharif, another former Prime Minister, who was arrested and deported immediately upon his attempted return to Pakistan in September. What a tangled web!

Benazir Bhutto continues to style herself the victim of the attack, despite the rather glaring fact that she retired from the roof and went inside the armored truck just a few minutes before the bombs went off. She was unhurt but her human shield suffered grievous damage -- the bloodiest terrorist attack in Pakistan's history, or "Pakistan's 9/11", as some have described it.

But "Benazir Bhutto, champion of democracy and victim of terror in Karachi" doesn't quite ring for her, and her support among the people of the country -- which some analysts thought would skyrocket in the aftermath of the attack -- has fallen.

The most cogent critics of Benazir Bhutto have been her neice Fatima and the former captain of the national cricket team, Imran Khan, who is now an opposition politician.

To introduce Imran Khan, here's a quick biography from Business Week: Keeping it Cricket
After a remarkable career as captain of Pakistan's national cricket team, Imran Khan parlayed his fame and fortune into a successful career as one of Pakistan's most prominent politicians.

Following his retirement from international cricket in 1992, Khan founded the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital & Research Center.

Four years later, Khan founded the Movement for Justice, a sociopolitical movement with the intent to expose the supposed corruption of Pakistan's ruling elite.

Khan eventually won a place in Parliament in 2002 and has been a popular, albeit controversial member ever since.
The piece from Business Week is a bit understated. Imran Khan was a fantastic cricketer. This matters more than you might think.

Here are some comments from Imran Khan regarding the Karachi bombings, from AFP : Bhutto 'to blame' for attack: Imran Khan
Former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto has "only herself to blame" for the deadly suicide attack on her homecoming parade, opposition politician Imran Khan said.

The former Pakistan cricket captain said Bhutto had made herself an assassination target by striking a deal with President Pervez Musharraf which "deliberately sabotaged the democratic process."

"The bombing of Benazir Bhutto's cavalcade as she paraded through Karachi on Thursday night was a tragedy almost waiting to happen. You could argue it was inevitable," he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

"Everyone here knew there was going to be a huge crowd turning up to see her return after eight years in self-imposed exile. Everyone also knows that there has been a spate of suicide bombings in Pakistan lately."

"This may sound equally harsh, but she has only herself to blame," he said.

Bhutto has condemned the blasts, which killed 139 people Thursday night hours after Bhutto returned from eight years in self-imposed exile, as an "attack on democracy."

But Khan said Bhutto's deal with Musharraf, which gave her an amnesty from corruption charges, undermined democracy.

"The sad thing is, she didn't need to do it. Musharraf was sinking and isolated. He was on the point of declaring a state of emergency. Just when it looked as if he had no lifelines left, Benazir came back and bailed him out.

"Worse, by publicly siding with a dictator, she has deliberately sabotaged the democratic process.

Khan said Musharraf has "dismantled state institutions, such as an independent judiciary and an election commission, and has introduced a controlled assembly, a controlled prime minister and a controlled media.

"The polls show he can only win this next election if he massively rigs it. That is what he did in 2002, as confirmed by the EU monitoring team.

"Given the way that she has undermined democracy by siding with Musharraf, I don't know how Benazir has the nerve to say that the 130 people killed in those bomb blasts sacrificed their lives for the sake of democracy in Pakistan."
Benazir's neice Fatima has a slightly different understanding of the situation.

From Singapore's Electric New Paper : Bhutto vs Bhutto: Niece blames aunt for Pakistan suicide bomb deaths: 'They died for Benazir's grand show' (with my emphasis, here and elsewhere):
Ms Fatima, a 25-year-old poet and newspaper columnist, said the former Pakistan prime minister had endangered the victims for the sake of personal theatre.

She accused her aunt of protecting herself with an armoured truck, while bringing in hundreds of thousands of supporters by bus, despite warnings of an attack.

'They died for this personal theatre of hers, they died for this personal show,' she said.

Ms Fatima is the daughter of Ms Benazir's late brother, Murtaza, who was killed by police in Karachi in 1996 amid murky circumstances that led to the collapse of Benazir's second term in government.

Mr Murtaza led a left-wing extremist group after military ruler Zia-ul-Haq executed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1979 and then fell out with his sister over what he felt was her betrayal of their father's political legacy.

Ms Benazir has blamed Islamic extremists, possibly with links to rogue or former intelligence agents, for the attack.

Her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) dismissed Ms Fatima's accusation as 'senseless'.

Reacting to the comments made by Ms Benazir's enstranged niece, Ms Benazir's key aide, fellow PPP leader Sherry Rehman has angrily retorted to Fatima's comments dismissing them as 'inappropriate'.

She told a private television channel: 'Fatima Bhutto is young and emotional, she does not even know what she is saying and is also unaware of the reality and politics of the country.
On the contrary, clearly...
'Benazir Bhutto had come to Pakistan with a message of peace, and it is inappropriate for Fatima to give such a statement against her family.'

Authorities are questioning three people from the south of Punjab province over the attack.

Meanwhile, the PPP has also vowed to defy a planned ban on political rallies in the run-up to general elections. It is seen as a key step to restoring civilian rule here.
To clarify: it's the election that's seen -- by some -- as restoring civilian rule and democracy, not the ban on political rallies or the pledge to defy that ban, which now has apparently been canceled.

Others see through the subterfuge, of course, and of these people it is often said, "They don't understand..."

But this Radio Australia interview with Fatima Bhutto seems to belie that notion:
Barely a week back in Pakistan, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto continues to generate controversy with her decision to return from eight years of self-imposed exile. The government is now proposing banning large rallies ahead of January's parliamentary elections, to avoid a repeat of last week's deadly suicide bombings in Karachi, which killed 139 people. To discourage similar attacks, Ms Bhutto is now proposing taking her campaign online, after being accused by opponents and even members of her family, of ignoring death threats, putting her supporters at risk. Critics include Ms Bhutto's 25-year-old niece, Fatima Bhutto. Her father is Benazir's late brother Murtaza, who was killed in 1996 amid murky circumstances that led to the collapse of Ms Bhutto's second government.

BHUTTO: What I do feel, not as a niece, what a do feel as a member of the media in Pakistan, as a member of the press and as a citizen of Karachi. I think that the whole performance of her return was very dangerous to the city and to these people and she bears responsibility for these 140 lives that have been lost.

LOPRESTI: There has been a lot of talk about that homecoming parade last Thursday and the suicide bombings that ripped through the procession. So are you saying that you believe that she is to blame for that carnage, given that she was warned?

BHUTTO: Well, I'll tell you, there was a massive campaign on behalf of the party regarding her return. The first part of that was in the television spot every half-an-hour, full-page ads in newspapers and the second part is that every party officer, every party bearer, every member of assembly from a district level through a national level was told to fill buses, to fill trucks, to fill rickshaws, to fill taxis, and bring them to Karachi for her arrival, so they could create disruption at this time.

Now these 200,000 people that were bused, their transport was paid for by Benazir's party, their accommodation in Karachi was taken care of by Benazir's party and their meals were taken care of. They were here on her behalf at her invitation. And for her to come out after the fact and say I knew there was a danger of a suicide bombing and I was warned that an attack would take place - well, it's very irresponsible of her to place all these peoples' lives at risk, while she herself was very protected. She had a bulletproof car and she spoke behind fortified steel containers, but these people were out in the open.

LOPRESTI: Do you think she's an opportunist?

BHUTTO: Politically, Benazir is a machine that thrives on the fear of victimisation. The chaos that follows this kind of violence has always proved very, very convenient for her and she's always trying to portray herself as a prime minister wrongly accused on corruption charges, a former leader in exile. And that's what's she doing now as well, is that she's saying this attack was an attack on democracy. Absolutely not. We have been fighting for democracy for the last eight years, while she was in exile. This attack was not an attack on democracy, it was an attack on her.

LOPRESTI: Well, if I could just take up that point that you make about democracy in Pakistan. I mean she is able to return to Pakistan after General Musharraf dropped the corruption charges against her. In return, he has an ally and has secured his position for now. Given that she has effectively bailed President Musharraf out, because he was sinking politically and was on the verge of declaring a state of emergency, has she - in your view - derailed the democratic political process?

BHUTTO: Yes, absolutely. I'll tell you why. First of all, the deal under which she came back, the terms that were set, including Musharraf dropping her corruption charges, I mean this has proved very dangerous for this country, because first of all, not only will it wipe out 20 years' worth of corruption charges and violence from various politicians, bureaucrats and bankers, but it also includes a provision that will make it virtually impossible for citizens of this country to file charges against a sitting parliamentarian. These are very dangerous precedents first of all. And then secondly, Benazir's return and this violence that followed her has now led people to say well, we had been planning for elections for January 2008, but in light of this silence, maybe public rallies should be banned.

LOPRESTI: And she is saying she's suggesting to hold virtual rallies and campaign by telephone?

BHUTTO: Well, you know what, unfortunately for Ms Bhutto we live in a very poor country, we live in a developing country and the majority of our citizens do not have access to the internet, the majority of our citizens are illiterate, so how does she propose to embark on an internet campaign. That's ridiculous and it shows how out of touch she is with the political reality in Pakistan.

LOPRESTI: Do you think that Benazir Bhutto is also making herself a target for assassination, given that she is siding with the president, who is hugely unpopular in Pakistan and viewed as a stooge for the Americans?

BHUTTO: It's not allying herself with Musharraf that has caused this violence. The reason that there is a danger towards her life is because she's allied herself to neoconservatives in the Bush White House. For example before her return, she gave statements saying that once elected prime minister for the third time, which she assumes is going to be a given, she would then allow America to come in and hunt for Osama in Pakistan proper and bring the war to our cities, to Karachi, to Islamabad, to Lahore. Now this dug very sharply amongst Pakistanis for someone to come in and say almost giddily that they would allow American troops within our country. This is a great betrayal.

LOPRESTI: Are these the reasons why you've been quoted as saying I'm scared for what this means for the country, meaning her return. Is it repulsive?

BHUTTO: Absolutely, I mean first of all the ordinance that she's come back under is unbelievable. I mean it actively disempowers the people. Benazir herself is accused of taking an estimated amount of $US2.5 billion out of this country, and that's one person and to just give the general amnesty and wipe the slate clean, that is a very dangerous precedent for this country. And her alliance with the pro-neocon agenda is very frightening for us, because her advancement to power through the Bush White House and through these statements comes at the cost of our lives.
I disagree with Fatima Bhutto and Imran Khan to the extent that they disagree with each other. It's not a question of whether Benazir Bhutto has allied herself with Pervez Musharraf or George Bush or the neoconservatives in Washington. The combination is more powerful than any single issue, in my most humble estimation.

UPDATE: BBC News reports another public appearance by Benazir Bhutto, with much different security arrangements: Bhutto visits ancestral village
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has visited her ancestral village near Larkana in southern Sindh province, amid heavy security.

It was her first public trip outside Karachi since nearly 140 people were killed in an assassination attempt.

At her home village, Ms Bhutto prayed at the tomb of her executed father, former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

At her home village of Garhi Khuda Baksh, Ms Bhutto was greeted by about 4,000 supporters who chanted "Long Live Bhutto" and cheered as Ms Bhutto arrived in a bullet-proof vehicle.

Earlier, her convoy to Karachi airport, from where she flew to Sukkur, had a strong police escort. Side roads along the route were sealed off.

"It's a long time since I've been here and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to put my feet on my homeland once again, to see the love of my people," Bhutto said aboard the plane before it landed in Sukkur, Reuters said.

"This has strengthened me to do what I can to save Pakistan by saving democracy, which is so essential to giving people safety, security and better prospects," she said.

Dozens of activists from the PPP, armed with AK-47s, have been guarding her father's tomb.

The activists cordoned off the area near the tomb and refused access even to police, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The BBC has more but this is the gist of it, I think.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf granted Ms Bhutto an amnesty from corruption charges that allowed her to return to Pakistan.

She has been negotiating with Gen Musharraf over a possible power-sharing deal.

"People are just being butchered and it has to stop, somebody has to find a solution and my solution is let's restore democracy," she told a news conference before leaving Karachi.
Ah yes! What must the Pakistani people be thinking?

Ah yes! Lets work out another backroom deal to save Pakistan by restoring democracy! Maybe the Americans can help us. I hear they're trying to get rid of their democracy!

What a tangled web indeed.