An AR Special SUSPECTS IN BENAZIR ASSASSINATION HAVE TIES TO MUSHARRAF by Ahmar Mustikhan American Reporter Correspondent Rockville, Md.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When Gordon Brown this past Monday feted coup-leader-turned-President Pervez Musharraf at 10 Downing Street, Britain's new prime minister probably didn't ask the Pakistani dictator a question that is now on many minds: Did you order the murder of Benazir Bhutto?
Nonetheless, it was Bhutto's interview with BBC's David Snow in which she named Ijaz Shah, chief of the Intelligence Bureau, as one of the chief suspects in the October 18 bomb attacks that spared her life but left more than 150 dead that seems to have sealed her fate.
Even if Mr. Brown had the temerity to ask such an undiplomatic question, he would never get a straight and honest answer from a despot who has been accused many times of playing fast and loose with the truth in order to maintain his anti-democratic rule and cover up his repeated human rights violations.
Will we ever know the full truth about Bhutto's assassination? Possibly not. But we do know that there was a deadly cocktail of powerful groups who wanted Bhutto annihilated; allegedly include serving and retired generals, some present and past intelligence chiefs, international smugglers with billions of dollars in their coffers, and perhaps the son of a former military dictator.
All of these groups in Pakistan are tacitly colluding with terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden - or at least not tracking him down and bringing him to justice. In fact, Al Qaeda and the Pakistani establishment are, to some extent, two sides of the same coin, in that they are anti-democrats and tolerate religious fundamentalism.
The same elements were responsible for the killing of secular leaders from the rebel province of Baluchistan: the former Governor and Chief Minister, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, in 2006, and a former member of the provincial assembly, rebel leader Mir Balaa'ch Marri, last November.
The people who stand to gain from Bhutto's death include President Gen. (Ret.) Musharraf himself. With Bhutto dead, a key election rival is conveniently out of the way. President Bush realised that openly backing a dictator was increasingly embarrassing. He demanded a democracy make over to save US face.
Musharraf was not happy. He unwillingly accepted elections and a power-sharing formula dictated to him by Washington. Did he have any other choice? After all, he is dependent on American aid and weapons and therefore cannot easily afford to snub his masters in the White House and Pentagon.
Other beneficiaries of Bhutto's assassination are intelligence bureau chief, Brigadier Ejaz Shah, and former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief General Hamid Gul. He blames Bhutto for not letting him become the army chief. Gul is, of course, Musharraf's alter ego.
Bhutto's demise was also helpful to a former member of the national assembly, Ejazul Haq, and to "businessman" Dawood Ibrahim (spelled Dawood Ibrahom in many Arabic transliterations).
Gul and Shah, along with former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, were among suspects named by Bhutto herself prior to her assassination, but none of them have been charged with her murder so far.
As her relationship with Bush Administration officials warmed up, unbeknownst to Bhutto these dangerous players in Pakistan politics - with whom bin Laden has ties - were closely following her moves.
From Bhutto's plane trip to Colorado with Zalmay Mamozy Khalilzad, the Permanent US Representative to the United Nations, to her phone talk with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before her return to Pakistan last year, Benazir Bhutto was on the radar of both Pakistani intelligence and terrorists alike.
Pakistan has misled the world into believing that it was incapable of arresting bin Laden and Taliban ruler Mullah Omar. But after Bhutto met Khalilzad, its is alleged that Musharraf secretly met with Khalilzad's chief nemesis, the ousted Taliban "amir" - the one-eyed Mullah Omar - in the Pakistan garrison city of Quetta, bordering Afghanistan.
"Musharraf met Mullah Omar before and after his visit to Saudi Arabia within a period of just three weeks," claims one senior official in Quetta (the state capital of Baluchistan). The official said it was nearly impossible to prove the meetings took place given the nature of Pakistan's deceptive body politic and press censorships. But Afghan president Hamid Karzai has repeatedly said Mullah Omar is in Quetta.
That one of Musharraf's main mentors, General Mahmud Ahmed, who played the master strokes in catapulting Musharraf into power is close to Mullah Omar, is an open secret. Ahmed, a former chief of the I.S.I., was described by 9/11 deniers as the "money man" behind the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. Mehmud was forced out of the army under U.S. pressure just a month after 9/11.
Last fall, purported intelligence agency documents that are unnamed and undated stated that "consistent reporting indicates Pakistan provides both military and financial assistance" to the Taliban for strategic reasons.
The last dignitary that Bhutto met before her death was Afghan President Abdul Hamid Karzai, who has repeatedly accused Islamabad of harboring Mullah Omar.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that the city where Bhutto was assassinated, Rawalpindi, is the headquarters of the Pakistani army. This is the world's fifth largest army, and a nuclear-armed one. It is also imbued with religious fervor. The soldiers of the Pakistani army chant "Allah O' Akbar" as part of their daily drill.
Ever since Pakistan's controversial inception in August 1947, Rawalpindi has had the dubious distinction of being a place where other civilian prime ministers have also met their deaths. Prior to Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was gunned down there on 18 October, 1951. Not far away once stood the jail where her father, former President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged on the 4 April 1979.
The city is also home to Ejazul Haq, the son of General Ziaul Haq - who died, along with US Ambassador Arnie Raphel, in an air crash on the 17 August 1988.
The Haqs have a pathological dislike of Bhuttos. Indeed, it was General Ziaul Haq who hanged Benazir Bhutto's father. When asked why he felt he had to kill Bhutto, the late General is said to have responded, "There was one grave and two people - myself and Bhutto. So I sent Bhutto to it."
This history of personal, family and political rivalry is one reason why many people in Pakistan suspect Ejazul Haq might have had a hand in Benazir's Bhutto's killing. Haq was religious affairs minister in Pakistan's federal cabinet.
But both Hussain Haqqani, who worked as a senior media official in the Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif administrations and is now in self-exile in the U.S., and Senator Javaid Laghari, a confidante of Benazir Bhutto, who was sent by Pakistan People's Party co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari to Washington last week to lobby U.S. support for either a U.N. or international investigation to expose those "behind" Bhutto's killing, said the man most suspected of mnasterminding Benazir Bhutto's assassination is Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.
"It's the law of the jungle," Laghari told a gathering of intellectuals and activists from Sindh, Bhutto's home province, in Rockville. Md., recently. Laghari said Scotland Yard's terms of reference in Pakistan are only what killed Bhutto, while the party wants to expose the faces of the killers.
"Bibi [Bhutto] had indicted General Musharraf in her life," Laghari told a gathering of Sindh intellectuals and activists in Rockville last week. He was referring to the email Bhutto had sent to her political consultant in Washington, Mark Siegel, that clearly said Musharraf should be held responsible if she is killed.
Pakistani government officials have sought to pin the blame on rebel commander Baitullah Mehsud. Interestingly, one of Mehsud's spokespeople from Waziristan called foreign news services to deny the Pakistani claim. Meshud normally loves to boast about his triumphs, so this denial is significant.
A brother of Taliban warrior Abdullah Mehsud, who was killed by the ISI in July 2007, Baitullah Mehsud has had a meteoric rise as chief of the shadowy Tehrik-i-Taliban in southern Waziristan. A news report has said Mullah Omar has expelled him from the Taliban over tactical differences - he was reportedly confronting the Pakistan Army, instead of attacking NATO troops.
Blatant lying is not uncommon in Pakistan politics, and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has correctly pointed out the Musharraf regime cannot be trusted.
For instance, Musharraf has repeatedly claimed that Dawood Ibrahim is not in Pakistan. Originally from Bombay, which is now known as Mumbai, Ibrahim rose to become a big shot in the "smugglers' paradise" of Dubai, one of the wealthiest of of the United Arab Emirates. Ibrahim, the top man in Bombay's underworld, is implicated in the killing of 250 people in Mumbai on March 12, 1993, allegedly in retribution for the Hindu extremist takeover of the Babri Mosque.
But I saw Ibrahim at a party in Karachi (which is a short plane hop from Bombay) where plainclothes officers from the intelligence services had blocked off all roads as a security measure. Just two years ago, in fact, Musharraf was invited to attend Ibrahim's daughter's wedding with a son of Pakistan's legendary cricket player, Javaid Miandad, in Dubai, but stayed away from the event. The United States has formerly accused Ibrahim of ties to Al-Qaeda.
The other big culpability of the Pakistani establishment is the fact that Musharraf and intelligence bureau chief Ejaz Shah did not provide Bhutto with even half of the security measures that Pakistan allegedly provides to Ibrahim. The poor security made Bhutto's assassination possible.
While in Dubai in the late 1980ss and early '90s, Ibrahim and bin Laden maintained extensive contacts, as both were multimillionaires and moved in similar circles - one in smuggling and the other in real estate. Today, both are in Pakistan.
Ibrahim's men appear to be looking after bin Laden's business interests in smuggling and the hawala business, used by terrorists (and many others) to transfer funds from one country to another without using electronic or telephonic means. The United States suspects Ibrahim of abetting bin Laden's global operations.
"We are calling on the international community to stop the flow of dirty money that kills. For the Ibrahim syndicate, the business of terrorism forms part of their larger criminal enterprise, which must be dismantled," the U.S. State Dept. said in a Oct. 2003 comment on Ibrahim, who undoubtedly knew Bhutto had threatened to hand over Ibrahim to India for his riole in the bombings there.
Much of the Pakistani public and Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party members continue to suspect that Musharraf was involved in her killing.
A report in the weekly New York Sunhinted at the involvement of commandos from the Special Services Group (the equivalent of the SAS), which was headed by Musharraf for many years before he became army chief.
But most importantly, the name of the assassination plotter that Benazir Bhutto herself allegedly mentioned to Musharraf before her arrival in Pakistan was that of retired Brig. Gen. Ejaz Shah, director of the country's intelligence bureau.
Ejaz Shah was the man who "handled" bin Laden for nearly two decades, both in Shah's present position and in his previous postings in the Pakistani intelligence. He was sure to lose his job had Benazir Bhutto been elected as prime minister of Pakistan.
Shah, a Musharraf protégé, is the same man who failed to act against Ahmed Omar Saeed Shaikh, the mastermind behind the gruesome slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. At the time of Daniel Pearl's killing, Shah was Home Secretary - the top law enforcement official - in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, and in charge of Inter-Services Intelligence operations in Kashmir.
On the day before Pearl's abduction, the ISI allegedly kidnapped TIME correspondent Ghulam Hasnain - some say in retribution for Pearl
Pearl was not so lucky and, shockingly, Musharraf seemed to blame Pearl for inviting his own death.
Over the years, Ejaz Shah has wriggled his way up the greasy pole. He is considered Musharraf's buddy and has done dirty jobs for him in the past as well, like his infamous attempt to silence rape victim Mukhtar Mai. As part of his job, Shah is said to be in regular contact with "Islamic radicals,", and perhaps the likes of bin Laden, Dawood Ibrahim and Pearl's killer, Ahmed Saeed Omar Sheikh, whose surrender Shah reportedly managed for Pakistan authorities. In her interview with David Frost, Bhutto clearly identified Shah as the person wanting to see her dead and mentioned his links with Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. In an apparent slip of the tongue, instead of saying Daniel Pearl's name, she said Sheikh had murdered Osama bin Laden during the live telecast.
Bin Laden's personal dislike for Benazir Bhutto was an open secret. The terrorist mastermind is said to have offered huge sums of money to Pakistani legislators to oust Bhutto through a vote of no-confidence as early as her first term as elected prime minister of Pakistan (1988-90).
Bin Laden's hatred stems primarily from his world view that women should not lead Muslim societies. Most Muslim men still believe the ancient biblical teaching that women are inferior to men.
"Bin Laden operatives approached us with bag-loads of money," recalls Mir Hasil Bizenjo, secretary general of the National Party, who was then a member of the National Assembly.
At that time, Bhutto reported bin Laden's involvement in Pakistan politics, including a gift of $10 million to Bhutto's parliamentary opponents, to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. Bhutto mentioned the event in her revised autobiography. "Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of the East."
So who really killed Benazir Bhutto? None of us know for sure. Just as no one knows where bin Laden orMullah Omar is. But one thing is certain: there are several plausible suspects, and they all have links to President Pervez Musharraf.
AR Correspondent Ahmar Mustikhan is a journalist from the disputed Pakistani province of Baluchistan. He currently lives in Maryland and can be reached at email@example.com. His last report, from Pakistan, was on the hanging of children there.