(I have received a number of questions from the readers of my articles on the assassination of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto at Rawalpindi on December 27,2007. I have attempted to answer them in this article )
Could President Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistan Army have had a hand in the assassination of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto?
Unlikely. Musharraf and other senior Army officers were unhappy with her confrontational style after the first attack on her at Karachi on October 18,2007. They were also unhappy about her habit of making what they saw as wild allegations and taking her complaints to her friends in the US. They wanted to marginalise her and prevent her from becoming the Prime Minister again. They would have been able to achieve this through "normal" Pakistani methods such as manipulation and rigging of the polls. They did not have to resort to the extreme step of having her killed. Moreover, in the unlikely event of their wanting to have her killed, they would have got it done at some other place such as Peshawar and not in Rawalpindi, where there would have been little deniability.
How about complicity at the lower and middle levels of the armed forces, without the knowledge of Musharraf and Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS)?
Quite possible, but no evidence in support of this so far. There are two kinds of complicity--active and passive. Active complicity at the lower and middle levels would mean active participation by elements in the planning and execution of her assassination .Passive complicity means officers at lower and middle levels were probably aware of plans being made by terrorists or opponents of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto to have her killed, but they did not sound the alarm bell. They told themselves "it would serve her right" and kept quiet. The possibility of a passive complicity is higher than that of an active complicity. But no evidence either way so far.
How about wilful negligence in providing effective physical security to her?
There is clear-cut evidence of glaring negligence in providing effective physical security to her. Her allegations and concerns regarding threats to her security were disregarded. Was it wilful? Did those who were negligent want her to die? Possibly so, but difficult to prove. One thing is certain--Musharraf and his officers had considerable prejudice against her and they allowed this prejudice to affect their professional judgement regarding threats to her security and the kind of security she would require. Politicisation of the physical security assessment process led to her death. This is what happened in the case of Rajiv Gandhi too in May,1991. The politicisation of the question of his physical security contributed to his death at the hands of the LTTE. His party (Congress-I ) was greatly concerned over what it perceived as the weak security provided to him, but their concerns were treated by officials of the Government then in power in Delhi more with sarcasm than with seriousness. Physical security for Rajiv at the public meeting where he was killed was as shoddy as that for Benazir at Rawalpindi. When political considerations and prejudices are allowed to influence professional decisions in security-related matters, terrorists and extremists are the ultimate beneficiaries.
How come so many terrorist strikes have been taking place in Rawalpindi at regular intervals despite the fact that it is a military cantonment where the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army are located?
It is because of the notorious inefficiency and incompetence of the Rawalpindi Police. You may have the entire Pakistani Army based in Rawalpindi, but if the local police is inefficient, terrorists will continue to thrive.
You have written about the growing infiltration of the GHQ itself by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements and the dangers of the similar infiltration of Pakistan's nuclear establishment? Why has the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) not been able to detect the sleeper cells of Al Qaeda in the GHQ?
The ISI has been able to organise periodic acts of terrorism through its surrogates in India. But in Pakistan itself, its capabilities for the collection of terrorism-related intelligence and act on them have been poor. This is also so in the case of the Intelligence Bureau of the Ministry of the Interior and the Police. The Pakistani police and intelligence agencies have the lowest rate of detection of terrorism-related cases in the world. The majority of the cases remain undetected. This is largely due to their inefficiency and incompetence. Complicity of elements inside the Police and the intelligence agencies with the jihadi organisations also comes in the way of their acting against the sleeper cells. This complicity can be attributed to the long history of their using them against India and Afghanistan.
Who could have killed Benazir?
In the absence of evidence, I can only speculate. My needle of suspicion points to the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and individual Jundullah (Soldiers of Allah) elements in that order. The LEJ has the motivation and capability. It has some very good sharp-shooters recruited from among ex-servicemen. It had always disliked her because she was a woman, it looked upon her as the daughter of a Shia, who should not be allowed to rule Pakistan, and she was perceived as the cat's paw of the US. The same reasons would apply to the JEM also. Though the JEM avoids open anti-Shia rhetoric, many of its operatives used to be in the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the political wing of the LEJ. Even Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the JEM, started his career as a terrorist in the Sipah-e-Sahaba. Jundullahs are individual Muslims with intense personal anger who undertake acts of suicide terrorism to give vent to their anger. The number of acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistan increased from six in 2006 to 55 in 2007. The upsurge was steep after the commando raid in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007, during which 300 young girl students--most of them tribals--were allegedly killed.Most of them have remained undetected. Pakistani police sources say that this was partly because many of these attacks were undertaken by angry individual Muslims with no previous police record and with no known history of any organisational affiliation.
How politically secure is Musharraf?
A major confrontation between him and his political opponents is on the horizon if his opponents, by profiting from the sympathy wave, manage to win an absolute majority, if not a two-thirds majority in the forthcoming elections. While getting himself re-elected as the President in October,2007, by the outgoing Assemblies, he had promised that he would have his re-election endorsed by the newly-elected Assemblies. He may not be able to keep up this commitment. Before lifting the State of Emergency in December,2007, he had incorporated a number of amendments in Pakistan's Constitution through his executive orders to ensure that he would not be impeached or legally held accountable for the actions taken by him in violation of the Constitution and the other laws of the land. The new National Assembly is likely to try to have these provisions removed from the Constitution and move for his impeachment. Whether he is able to counter this or not would depend on Gen.Kiyani and the Army. If they stand by him, he might be able to surmount the challenge. If they don't, that could lead to his exit from power.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.