By Najam Sethi
February 24 - March 01, 2012
Rehman Malik has finally, and rather dramatically, aired the Joint Investigation Team's report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. But we are already privy to much of what he has revealed, partly because of media dribs and ministerial drabs in the last four years, and partly because of the inquiry reports of Scotland Yard and the UN, on the matter. Nor are we surprised by the choice of the venue - the Sindh Assembly represents the arena of Sindhi "nationalism and anti-Punjabi-establishmentism"; it is the burial province of three martyred Bhuttos and it is the source of a parliamentary resolution on the subject. The timing of the surprise is also understandable: in the run-up to general elections later this year, the theme of martyrdom will doubtless figure prominently.
Some facts are now established. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban (who was killed in a Drone strike subsequently), gave the order to kill Ms Bhutto. Several Afghan, Pakistani Taliban and former Jehadi groups played a role in the chain of command and action. Most of the assassins had been schooled at the Darul Uloom Haqqania, an Islamic radical Deobandi seminary in Akora Khattak whose "Vice-Chancellor" Maulana Sami-ul Haq is the leader of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema e Islam and currently leader of the firebrand Defense Council of Pakistan floated by the military establishment.
It is confirmed that senior military leaders ordered the civil administration to hose down the scene of crime within hours of Ms Bhutto's assassination. Significantly, the DG-ISI and DG-MI refused to appear before the three commissions of inquiry. Nor is there a shred of doubt about the unwillingness and inability of the Musharraf regime to provide requisite security to Ms Bhutto - who was constitutionally entitled to it as a twice-elected prime minister - after her return to Pakistan.
The background to the "deal" between General Musharraf and Ms Bhutto brokered by the Americans is also well-established. The Bush and Mush administrations were getting along like a house on fire. But, in the run up to general elections in 2007, General Musharraf was looking politically frail in the aftermath of the lawyers' movement and alienation from the mass media. The Americans proposed to prop him up by extending the populist hand of Ms Bhutto in a power-sharing arrangement for the next five years. General Musharraf and Ms Bhutto disliked the scheme but clutched at its potential utility. Musharraf thought he would be able to keep a tight rein on her by denying the PPP an outright majority in parliament and compelling a coalition with his King's PMLQ League. Ms Bhutto believed she would be able to manoeuver after she got a toehold in power. He wanted her to stay away from Pakistan until after the elections so that he could manipulate them. She demanded an even playing field to make a dent. He offered her the NRO as a face-saving device when she sought an amendment in the law barring third-term prime ministership. As D-Day neared, the existing trust deficit yawned and both backtracked from their commitments. When she firmly declared her intent to return before elections, he cunningly raised the specter of security threats to her life. Conveniently enough, that's when Baitullah Masud publicly threatened to send over 100 suicide bombers to stop Ms Bhutto in her tracks. When she remained undaunted, General Musharraf warned he wouldn't extend security to her. When she got the US administration to propose sending Blackwater guards to Pakistan for her private security, he refused permission. His hostility peaked when Nawaz Sharif's Saudi hosts insisted that their guest would also return to Pakistan to "balance" the concession to Ms Bhutto. That is when General Musharraf's carefully laid plans seemed to go awry and all seemed lost because of Ms Bhutto's intransigence. Consequently, if anyone had a powerful personal and political motive for stopping her in her tracks, it was General Musharraf, his military coterie and his political cabal in the Q league. Significantly, on the eve of her departure for Pakistan, Ms Bhutto released a letter naming those in such circles who constituted a threat to her life.
Mr Malik insists he will extradite General Musharraf to face charges in Pakistan. That's a hope in hell. The military has stopped him from establishing any nexus between the assassins and those who facilitated them in the establishment. And it will not allow a former chief of army staff, whose commanders are either still in power or retired at home in Pakistan, to be dragged through the courts and tried by the "bloody civilians".
The thunderous rhetoric of martyrdom, rather than proof and convictions, will therefore have to suffice for the heirs of Benazir Bhutto. That is the formula they have followed to win three elections in the past three decades. And that is the formula they are most likely to follow in the future.
Source: The Friday Times, Lahore