[DEBATE] : What Bhutto Was Worried About By Robert D. Novak
Riaz K Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Tue Jan 1 09:26:39 GMT 2008
What Bhutto Was Worried About By Robert D. Novak
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto followed two months of urgent pleas
to the State Department by her representatives for better protection.
The U.S. reaction was that she was worried over nothing, expressing
assurance that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would not let
anything happen to her.
That attitude led a Bhutto agent to inform a high-ranking State
Department official that her camp no longer viewed the backstage U.S.
effort to broker a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and the
former prime minister as a good-faith effort toward democracy. It was,
according to the written complaint, an attempt to preserve the
politically endangered Musharraf as George W. Bush's man in Islamabad.
President Bush confirmed that judgment with his statement Thursday,
within hours of learning that Bhutto was dead, when he urged that the
elections scheduled for Jan. 8 be held in furtherance of Pakistani
"democracy." That may be Musharraf's position, but it definitely is not
the position of his critics. They believed the election would be a sham
with Bhutto dead and with Saudi-backed former prime minister Nawaz
Sharif boycotting the balloting, though Sharif's party reversed course
The Bush administration decided months ago to broker a power-sharing
arrangement, with the deeply unpopular Musharraf retiring from the army
but remaining as president and the popular Bhutto taking a third try as
prime minister (after twice being ousted by the military). That decision
was based on Pakistan's strategic importance as a sanctuary for al-Qaeda
and Taliban fighters. Bush was in a quandary. Bhutto was much tougher
than Musharraf on Islamist extremists, but Bush had invested heavily in
When I last saw Bhutto, over coffee in August at Manhattan's Pierre
Hotel, she was deeply concerned about U.S. ambivalence but asked me not
to write about it. She had not heard from Musharraf for three weeks
after their secret July meeting in Abu Dhabi. She feared the Pakistani
military strongman was not being prodded from Washington.
Next came Musharraf's state of emergency and purge of Pakistan's Supreme
Court to guarantee legality of his questionable election as president.
According to Bhutto's advisers, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
asked Bhutto in a telephone conversation to go along with that process
in return for concessions from Musharraf. Bhutto agreed, but she got
nothing in return.
The unsuccessful Oct. 18 attempt on Bhutto's life followed the regime's
rejection of her requested security protection when she returned from
eight years in exile. The Pakistani government vetoed FBI assistance in
investigating the attack. On Oct. 26, Bhutto sent an e-mail to Mark
Siegel, her friend and Washington spokesman, to be made public only in
the event of her death.
"I would hold Musharraf responsible," Bhutto said in the message. "I
have been made to feel insecure by his minions." She listed obstruction
to her "taking private cars or using tinted windows," using jammers
against roadside bombs and being surrounded with police cars. "Without
him [Musharraf]," she said, those requests could not have been blocked.
In early December, a former Pakistani government official supporting
Bhutto visited a senior U.S. government official to renew Bhutto's
security requests. He got a brushoff, a mind-set reflected Dec. 6 at a
Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central
Asian affairs, was asked to respond to fears by nonpartisan American
observers of a rigged election. His reply: "I do think they can have a
good election. They can have a credible election. They can have a
transparent and a fair election. It's not going to be a perfect
election." Boucher's words echoed through corridors of power in
Islamabad. The Americans' not demanding perfection signaled that they
would settle for less. Without Benazir Bhutto around, it is apt to be a
A more sinister fallout of a free hand from Washington for Pakistan
might be Bhutto's murder. Neither her shooting on Thursday nor the
attempt on her life Oct. 18 bore the trademarks of al-Qaeda. After the
carnage, government trucks used streams of water to clean up the blood
and, in the process, destroyed forensic evidence. If not too late, would
an offer and acceptance of investigation by the FBI be in order? © 2007
The Washington Post Company
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