Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Death of Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of former prime minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who returned from exile on 18 October has all the ingredients of a Frederic Forsyth thriller . The knowledge of a clear and present danger, compounded by a near miss on the night of her return from years of exile, makes it a chronicle of a death foretold.

Benazir returned under a flawed U.S. mediated plan to shift Pakistan from direct to indirect military rule and give it a civilian fa├žade. For much of her exile, Benazir was considered irrelevant by Washington, but after Musharaf's crackdown on civil society in Pakistan, she emerged as America's safest bet in a region where US policy makers have huge stakes. Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's image-maker presented her as progressive, secular, female, reformed during her years of exile and willing to compromise.

Benazir was an enigma. Brilliant, beautiful, fearless, compassionate but with a will of iron, ruthless ambition and deeply devious. Far removed from ordinary life in Pakistan, she had an English governess, went to a convent school and graduated from Harvard and Oxford.

'London is like a second home for me,' she told William Dalrymple. 'I know London well. I know where the theatres are, I know where the shops are, I know where the hairdressers are. I love to browse through Harrods and WH Smith in Sloane Square. I know all my favourite ice cream parlours. I used to particularly love going to the one at Marble Arch: Baskin Robbins. Sometimes, I used to drive all the way up from Oxford just for an ice cream and then drive back again. That was my idea of sin.'

Known to her friends as Bibi or Pinky, she liked royal biographies and Mills and Boons romances. Khalid Hasan, Press Secretary to her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, said, "If Benazir Bhutto was to be summed up in one word, that word would be ‘kind’. Indomitable though her will was, and extraordinary the courage she was gifted with, behind her sometimes steely exterior lay a deeply humane woman who felt for the poor and the deprived. Benazir was forgiving. She had an amazing capacity to take personal abuse – and that was one count on which she was never to want. She would shrug her shoulders and move on. She preferred to concentrate on the essentials of her relationships with people, not the trivia that often gets to define them. She was by nature a generous person."

Husain Haqqani, who did a lot of work on her behalf in Washington and with the US media, wrote, "Benazir Bhutto was the most amazing, loving and lovable person I have ever known. For those who only saw her as a distant political figure, her human dimension clearly did not matter. For everyone whose life she touched, her humanity transcended the politics. Benazir Bhutto had the capacity to turn critics into admirers. When I first met her, I worked for her opponent but she won me over by her charm and persuasion, leading to fifteen years of close relations and my absolute personal loyalty to her".

However, Benazir had many loathsome detractors and critics. They painted Benazir Bhutto as a frivolously wealthy feudal landlord, more concerned with power than with the wellbeing of the average Pakistani. It was trumpeted with ferocious frequency that she and her husband shamelessly looted the nation’s treasure and ended up fleeing the country, pursued by the courts. It is also widely claimed that during her years as Prime Minister, Pakistan went backward, not forward.

It is not clear who killed Bhutto. She told crowd of supporters that fateful evening, "I risked my life and came here because I believe our country is in danger". The government says that Baitullah Mehsud, a militant with links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, was behind it. That exonerates everybody else.

This attack was carefully planned and executed. Benazir’s behaviour during and after public gatherings had been well researched and carefully plotted. She often used that top sunroof to greet her supporters during processions and public gathering. But her assassins could not assume she would continue to use the sunroof. They probably had a plan to get her to come out while she was about to leave the gate of Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi.

The killers learnt from the unsuccessful attempt of 18 October when Benazir survived because her armoured truck withstood the blast that while a bomb may fail because of the protective measures, it is necessary for the target to shift to another vehicle. There lies the opportunity for the kill. The assassins therefore probably planned for the 27 December attack to include a shooter, a suicide bomber and, in all probability, a sniper. They were determined to get her.

The publicly available video footage and photographs show a pistol firing gunman and a suicide bomber. The suicide bomber and the shooter probably did not know about each other's mission or presence. The shooter was not on a suicide mission and was given an exit plan. If the bomber was to be used to get her out of the armed vehicle, this shooter would have been eliminated with the bomber. So who was to take final shot? The logical conclusion points to a highly trained sniper. This therefore becomes something more sophisticated and professionally orchestrated.

Official accounts of the cause of death kept shifting. Bullet wounds became concussion. A Ministry of Interior spokesman said Benazir had died by hitting her head on a lever of her vehicle's sunroof during the attack. The other passengers refuted this. The doctors who examined Benazir afterwards also distanced themselves from this theory.

Considering what is known and statement of the DSP at the scene, the alleged shooter was almost at 8 o'clock position at a distance of about 3 to 4 meters from the vehicle. Though it's fairly close range, it is still difficult controlling a pistol/revolver. A revolver is more difficult to control than a pistol. As Benazir was standing in her vehicle, the angle of the shooting arm was about 35-45 degrees. It is a difficult shot with one hand even at such a close range. Add in the crowd and the anxiety factors and it becomes an almost impossible shot. The suicide bomber eliminated the shooter and created enough chaos.

If it is accepted that shooter was successful in taking his shot, than the bullet probably entered from slightly rear lower part on the left side with an exit from the front right side. An experienced doctor confirms that in this case the entry wound would be difficult to locate. Low velocity entry wounds are very small - smaller than the calibre of the gun. To note the characters of these types of entry wounds the area of scalp has to be shaven. The exit wound usually is bigger than the entry wound.

Dr. Mussadiq and his team at the General Hospital Rawalpindi must be under tremendous pressure as Benazir was either already dead or dying on their examination table. It cannot be ruled out that they missed the scalp wound. The doctors were probably unaware that shots had been fired at her. The assumption of death by blast might have narrowed their examination, otherwise they would have tried to find the entry and exit wound and the track of the bullet.

In any case a post-mortem was needed in quiet and calm condition to provide the answers as to how Benazir actually died. The autopsy was not conducted on instructions of the local police chief. A former senior Pakistani police official, Wajahat Latif, who headed the Federal Investigative Agency in the early 1990s, said that in any case of a suspected murder an autopsy was mandatory.

The Government was quick to blame the Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud. The evidence was intercepted audio recorded on tapes. It was the easiest and obvious attribution because only a religious fanatic lured by heavenly rewards would blow himself up! But what were their motives for Benazir’s assassination? Why should they kill her? Afterall what could she have done which Musharaf's Government is not already doing? They might have wanted her dead in general terms but their persistent going after her lacks a specific motive.

On 26 October, Benazir e-mailed 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. "

She was buried in the same mausoleum as her father where days after her return to Pakistan in October, she had visited to offer fatahah and scattered rose petals on the white-marble tomb.

Many questions remain unanswered. Who benefits from her death ? Why and who ordered the doctors not to have a post-mortem done at the hospital? Who ordered the fire brigade to wash away the crime scene and remove possible evidence?

Her assassination has certainly complicated the already fraught political situation of Pakistan.

1 comment:

  1. Jhaney, Nice Blog, aiek te qaoum de maan mar gayee utton tusi sariyan ne vitera bana liya hay jiwien oh kehnde ne na ke 'Zaroorat ijaad ki maan he aur maan ki tu kh.....(Decency)' Now let the MAAN rest in peace.

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