I watched Fareed Zakaria the other night night on The Daily Show and I thought he had a couple of very interesting, revealing things to say about his recent trip to Pakistan and his interview with Pervez Mushraff, particularly with regards to the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Zakaria said that in his interview with Musharaff that the General/Presdient/Dictator said that he had seen the post-mortem x-rays of Benazir Bhutto's corpse and that she definitely did not die of a bullet wound. I have italicized the relevant parts in this the quote from the actual interview:
Zakaria: You've said that Benazir Bhutto took risks. Surely it's normal for a politician to stand in a car's sunroof. If this is taking a risk, then politics is impossible in Pakistan.
Musharaff: This gathering she addressed was maybe 25,000-to-30,000 people. I have addressed gatherings of hundreds of thousands. She was given security. [But] you have to be conscious of security. The man in charge of security should be conscious. The man in charge of her security was her own handpicked superintendent of police. This area was known to be dangerous. There was a death threat, intelligence that there would be an attack, and we told her, yet she wanted to go, she was intent about it. She went into a dangerous place, and if you get out of the vehicle, you are responsible. All the others sitting inside the vehicle were safe.
But there is a widespread view in the country--and I've talked to many, many people, including supporters of yours--that in some way the government was complicit.
I refuse to listen to such accusations. I refuse to. I am the government, OK? I am not feudal, and I am not tribal. May I ask you, would you, if you were at the head of affairs, ever think of killing somebody like that? It didn't appear in our minds. Would it appear in your mind that you could get rid of a person through a bomb blast?
What do you do to give credibility to the government at this point? Do you think your investigation will be enough? Do you think they should exhume the body and do a post-mortem?
Yes, exhume it. A hundred percent. I would like it to be exhumed. Because I know for sure there is no bullet wound other than on the right side. Whether it was a bullet or a strike, I don't want to comment, I don't know.
But you've seen the x-rays…
Yes, I've seen the x-rays.
Does it appear there was a bullet entering and exiting?
I am a soldier, I've seen a lot of bullet wounds. A bullet wound is a small hole, and if the bullet goes through it makes a big hole on the other side. Now that is what I understand to be a bullet wound. This was not that, although I'm not an expert. But how does it absolve the government if it was a bullet or not? If you or anyone else were to accuse the government, the issue of the bullet [versus] explosives is not significant. The media and everyone are involved in an issue that is not very pertinent. Why would we be hiding [the cause of death]? It's ridiculous, and when I read these comments, I laugh at them.
Why not order a post-mortem? You can do it; you're the chief executive.
Everything is not black and white here. It would have very big political ramifications. If I just ordered the body exhumed, that would be careless, unless [Bhutto's] people agreed. But they will not.
Because they know it's a fact there is nothing wrong.
So you think Mr. Zardari [Bhutto's husband] is playing a political game?
Everybody is trying to gain political advantage; the entire opposition is trying to take political advantage. I know what [Bhutto's opponents] used to say about her, but all of a sudden ... it makes me laugh, actually. And then there's the cultural factor. Somehow, in our culture, a post-mortem of a woman is not done. When the body was at the hospital, Zardari himself said it could not be done; he didn't want the post-mortem done.
Now he says if there were a United Nations investigation he would allow a post-mortem.
There cannot be a U.N. investigation. There are not two or three countries involved. Why should there be a U.N. investigation? This is ridiculous.
You said in one of your comments afterwards, "I told [her] to be careful and I told her that this was not the Pakistan that you left. It's a different country." Is it fair to point out that for most of that period you have been in charge of Pakistan? Why has Pakistan gotten so much less safe under your presidency?
Because of terrorism and extremism, which we have been facing since 1979, for 30 years. We fought a war in Afghanistan in coalition with the Americans against the Soviets for 10 years. We trained the Taliban and armed them and sent them in [to Afghanistan]. Was I doing this? The West was doing it, the United States was doing it. Then what happened between 1989 and 2001? Mayhem and destruction. Did I do this?
Now leaving aside this issue about 'exhuming the body' - (because it is is murky area and the Bhutto family has also publicly declared that they too don't want the body exhumed) - I wished Zakaria (whom I usually have great respect for as a commentator) would have followed up this exchange with Musharaff about "bullets" and "bullet wounds" by asking him about the footage that is now available everywhere clearly showing men firing guns at Benazir Bhutto. Certainly, at least one gun anyway. As in:
General? What about all the footage showing guns being fired at her? How can you say that there were no bullets?
This (below) was the first footage to appear. And in this version that initial footage of the 'Benazir Bhutto Assassination' is slowed right down and one can clearly see a raised pistol pointing in the direction of Benazir Bhutto and firing. It is even highlighted by a red circle:
And then in this CNN video - which was the next major piece of footage to emerge - shot from a different angle, from behind Benazir Bhutto one can clearly see (as the journalist explains) a man approach the car and fire a gun, Bhutto's head scarf rises slightly and then she slumps down into her car:
Here are some various close-ups and stills on this image as well. It is unclear whether or not this is the same gun man from the first clip, but it very well could be.
And then there is this AP Video (which can be viewed here) which shows both the inside and the outside of Bhutto's car after the suicide bomber blast. The car was bomb proof and though it was riddled with damage it itself did not explode staying relatively intact, while inside the car there is quite a large blood stain on the seat where Bhutto must have fallen.
Yes, I realize that Pakistan is a nation (supposedly) "rife with rumours and innuendo" and all that but under these circumstances and with these kinds of images I don't see how I can blame the almost half (48%) of Pakistanis who believe that Bhutto was some how killed by their own Government.
First, of course, there was the Government's initial press conference where the Interior Ministry spokesman Brig-Gen Javed Iqbal Cheema blamed "Al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud" for the attack and even played what he claimed was a "intelligence intercept" from the man. In the message Meshud "congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act.", the Brig-General said.
SLAMABAD: In a dramatic U-turn, Pakistan government has "apologised" for claiming that former premier Benazir Bhutto died of a skull fracture after hitting the sunroof of her car during a suicide attack.
Caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan has asked the media and people to "forgive and ignore" comments made by his ministry's spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema which were slammed by her Pakistan People's Party as "lies" and led to an uproar at home and abroad.
The Interior Minister made the apology during a briefing for Pakistani newspaper editors on Monday.
Punjab province on Tuesday issued a front-page advertisement in newspapers that offered a reward of Rs 1 crore for information about a gunman and a suspected suicide bomber seen in the photos and video footage of the assassination.
The government's apparent damage control exercise on Cheema's comments made at a news conference a day after Bhutto was assassinated at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on December 27, came after TV channels aired privately shot photos and video footage which showed a gunman shooting at Bhutto.
The Pakistan People's Party leader is seen in the footage falling through the sun-roof before the suicide bomber detonated his explosives.
The briefing by caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro was also attended by the foreign, interior and information ministers and senior officials.
"Editor after editor lambasted the government for its non-serious attitude towards the tragedy, specially the statement that Bhutto had died by hitting the lever and not (due to) a bullet or shrapnel," The News reported.
And so the day after the Bhutto assassination the spokesman of the Interior Ministry goes before the nation and the world and pronounces this theory that Benazir Bhutto died from the wound attained when she hit her head on the sunroof latch of the car after the blast wave from the detonating suicide bomber. And then because of emerging video evidence that shows the sheer ridiculousness of their original story the government is forced to recant that very scenario a couple of days later. Notice however, that the government didn't recant that story until they were forced to, and even then, as far as I know, they have yet to posit any other theory in its place. So why put it out there in the first place?
Which brings me back to the other thing that Fareed Zakaria said in his Daily Show Interview. Talking about this very event he basically said that the Pakistani government 'isn't very sophisiticated' and are 'inexperienced with this kind of thing' (what - political assassinations?) and that Interior Ministry spokesman Brig-Gen Javad Iqbal Cheema was just 'put out there on his own' where he proceeded to basically 'make up his own story'. Now I know (very well thank-you) that The Daily Show is a comedy show and not a news show (and thus their ironic strength in truth-telling) and Fareed Zakaria is a writer/commentator that I very much respect, but I just don't think this is good enough, and when this kind of thing takes place one can hardly blame half the population of Pakistan for believing that their government is trying to hide something. And possibly, their own complicity.
Why did Brig-Gen Javad Iqbal Cheema choose to tell this particular story? Was he trying to calm the country? Was he trying to deflect blame from the government because at the time both the PPP and the Bhutto family were both publicly blaming the government for their failure to provide adequate security for Benazir Bhutto, as well as other possible more sinister motives? Both of these rationales could be plausible. But the fact remains:
Has anyone yet put this obvious question about the gunman (gun - men) directly to the government? This could very well have happened in the Pakistani press and I am just unaware of it. No doubt there have been all kinds of stories and commentary written there of which I have no knowledge. But the fact remains that within the Western press Musharraf has yet to acknowledge (as the above Zakaria interview makes clear) that Benazir Bhutto even died from a gunshot wound, much less that there was a gunman present.
And even this following interview with 60 Minutes, Musharaff talks only about the presence of the suicide bomber saying 'there is no real protection from a suicide bomber' and basically blames Bhutto for her own death for emerging back out the sun roof of her car after she had already gone inside. (And he states in addition that 'there is no evidence that Osama Bin Laden is actually in Pakistan', and 'that we are not particularly looking for him'.) But again, he never talks about the gun man at the scene and the video evidence of gun shots directed at Benazir Bhutto being fired. And still the question is never actually put to him:
It's almost as if Musharaff is going out of his way to maintain a particular appearance for the benefit of the Western world.
Which brings us to an absolutely stellar, seminal article that appeared in yesterday's New York Times:
Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials say by Carlotta Gall and David Rhode. It's a must read. And I do believe it breaks new ground in Western media coverage with regards to the absolutely crucial, very murky and too often misunderstood subject of the inner workings of the Pakistani Military Intelligence wing - the Inter-Services Intelligence (another article here - and its long, incestuous relationship with militant Islamic jihadism in the region. And the story it tells is just more bad news for Pakistan, for the region and for everybody else potentially. From the article:
Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.
Islamic militants surrendered in July after Pakistani authorities stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad. Government officials reported more than 100 deaths; militants insisted that thousands had been killed.
As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.
The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so.
The unusual disclosures regarding Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency — Inter-Services Intelligence, or the ISI — emerged in interviews last month with former senior Pakistani intelligence officials. The disclosures confirm some of the worst fears, and suspicions, of American and Western military officials and diplomats.
The interviews, a rare glimpse inside a notoriously secretive and opaque agency, offered a string of other troubling insights likely to refocus attention on the ISI’s role as Pakistan moves toward elections on Feb. 18 and a battle for control of the government looms:
¶One former senior Pakistani intelligence official, as well as other people close to the agency, acknowledged that the ISI led the effort to manipulate Pakistan’s last national election in 2002, and offered to drop corruption cases against candidates who would back President Pervez Musharraf.
A person close to the ISI said Mr. Musharraf had now ordered the agency to ensure that the coming elections were free and fair, and denied that the agency was working to rig the vote. But the acknowledgment of past rigging is certain to fuel opposition fears of new meddling.
¶The two former high-ranking intelligence officials acknowledged that after Sept. 11, 2001, when President Musharraf publicly allied Pakistan with the Bush administration, the ISI could not rein in the militants it had nurtured for decades as a proxy force to exert pressure on India and Afghanistan. After the agency unleashed hard-line Islamist beliefs, the officials said, it struggled to stop the ideology from spreading.
¶Another former senior intelligence official said dozens of ISI officers who trained militants had come to sympathize with their cause and had had to be expelled from the agency. He said three purges had taken place since the late 1980s and included the removal of three ISI directors suspected of being sympathetic to the militants.
(None of the former intelligence officials who spoke to The New York Times agreed to be identified when talking about the ISI, an agency that has gained a fearsome reputation for interfering in almost every aspect of Pakistani life. But two former American intelligence officials agreed with much of what they said about the agency’s relationship with the militants.
So did other sources close to the ISI, who admitted that the agency had supported militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir, although they said they had been ordered to do so by political leaders.
The former intelligence officials appeared to feel freer to speak as Mr. Musharraf’s eight years of military rule weakened, and as a power struggle for control over the government looms between Mr. Musharraf and opposition political parties.
The officials were interviewed before the assassination of Ms. Bhutto, the opposition leader, on Dec. 27. Since then, the government has said that Pakistani militants linked to Al Qaeda are the foremost suspects in her killing. Her supporters have accused the government of a hidden hand in the attack.
While the author of Ms. Bhutto’s death remains a mystery, the interviews with the former intelligence officials made clear that the agency remained unable to control the militants it had fostered.
The threat from the militants, the former intelligence officials warned, is one that Pakistan is unable to contain. “We could not control them,” said one former senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We indoctrinated them and told them, ‘You will go to heaven.’ You cannot turn it around so suddenly.”)
It states further:
Mr. Musharraf dismissed criticism of the ISI’s relationship with the militants. He cited the deaths of 1,000 Pakistani soldiers and police officers in battles with the militants in recent years — as well as several assassination attempts against himself — as proof of the seriousness of Pakistan’s counterterrorism effort.
“It is quite illogical if you think those people who have suffered 1,000 people dead, and I who have been attacked thrice or four or five times, that I would be supportive towards Taliban, towards Al Qaeda,” Mr. Musharraf said. “These are ridiculous things that discourages and demoralizes.”
But some former American intelligence officials have argued that Mr. Musharraf and the ISI never fully jettisoned their militant protégés, and instead carried on a “double-game.” They say Mr. Musharraf cooperated with American intelligence agencies to track down foreign Qaeda members while holding Taliban commanders and Kashmiri militants in reserve.
In order to undercut major opposition parties, he wooed religious conservatives, according to analysts. And instead of carrying out a crackdown, Mr. Musharraf took half-measures.
And further still:
One former senior intelligence official said that some officials in the government and the ISI thought the militants should be held in reserve, as insurance against the day when American and NATO forces abandoned the region and Pakistan might again need them as a lever against India.
“We had a school of thought that favored retention of this capability,” the former senior intelligence official said.
Some senior ministers and officials in Mr. Musharraf’s government sympathized with the militants and protected them, former intelligence officials said. Still others advised a go-slow approach, fearing a backlash against the government from the militants.
When arrests were ordered, the police refused to carry them out in some cases until they received written orders, believing the militants were still protected by the ISI, as they had been for years.
Inside the ISI, there was division as well. One part of the ISI hunted down militants, the officials said, while another continued to work with them. The result was confusion.
The article goes on to give a history of this relationship and some of the people involved in it in the post September 11th Pakistani environment. And while it offers no direct evidence beyond the statements of these "two former senior intelligence officials" it certainly alludes to the possibility that some if not all of the rise in militant activity and suicide bombing in Pakistan of late - including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto - could, possibly be directly attributable to this new schism - this break or fragmentation - within the ISI.
I think that until recently Musharaff has actually been able to present a pretty convincing case to the West with regards to the various struggles Pakistan is engaged in with Islamic Jihadism in the region. (I loathe the meaningless phrase 'War on Terror' and try not to use it.) Not just because he is Bush's man and all that. I just think he can at least shut up most Western reporters when he brings up the fact the Pakistani military has lost 1000 soldiers fighting extremism in the region, particularly in the tribal areas, and if Pakistan isn't going to do it who is. As I heard him once tell Carol Off of the CBC: "Who the hell is doing anything, if Pakistan isn't doing anything?".
The subject obviously get his blood boiling and to a certain extent he has a point. Most Westerners and western media, beyond having very little knowledge of life on the ground in Pakistan in general, do not have much of an idea of the deep overlapping involvement of the Inter-Services Intelligence with militants in the region - with the Taliban and the Taliban leadership, in Afghanistan, and in Kashmir. But I also think - particularly in his interviews with Western journalists - that Musharaff uses this to his advantage. The man - for all kinds of reasons - always wants to present himself as the indispensable man in Pakistan - as the West's and America's indispensable man in the region. Zakaria writes: "Pakistan is a messy place, with only unpalatable choices, which is why many believe that in this land of the blind, Pervez Musharraf is king. George W. Bush, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy—all have bet on Musharraf. He's not perfect, in their view, but he is a bold leader who fights terrorism and has the competence to move this complex country in a modern direction. Until recently it was a good bet.".
But perhaps now that image is beginning to crack, alongside basic order and control in the country.
And even in that Fareed Zakaria article: Musharaff's Last Stand that accompanied the above interview this trouble within the military and within ISI is mentioned:
Musharraf has explained his actions—all wildly unpopular—as necessary to fight terror, and banked on foreign reporters' not checking the details of a complex saga.
Theories abound. The Pakistani military was never fully committed to battling jihadists. Having spent decades training fighters for Kashmir and Afghanistan, the Army withdrew support but would not kill or arrest its former charges. While true at first, things appear to have changed in the past year. The armed forces are taking the battle to the militants, which explains why the jihadists are now targeting the Army in return. There remain some defense experts, like Talat Masood, a retired general, who argue that even now, the Army is softer on Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists, believing that keeping those places somewhat unstable is in Pakistan's long-term interests. (The Army assumes that the United States will eventually tire of the war and leave, and India will benefit from a stronger Afghanistan.) "The idea that a stable Afghanistan and India mean peace and development—that's something that the Pakistani Army doesn't really believe in its heart," says Masood.
But perhaps its not that theoretical at all. The struggle within and the activities of the Inter-Services Intelligence is an extremely difficult area for any journalist to penetrate, Western, Pakistani or otherwise and Carlotta Gall and David Rhode may have come closer than anyone. And I have no way of knowing for sure but there is every possibility that some militant group with either former or current ties to the agency may have been involved in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Which would be doubly, tragically ironic since she herself often availed her government(s) of their services.
What is becoming clear, however, is that Pakistanis, in addition to having to process a military dictatorship, the assassination of the country's most popular politician, a constitutional crisis with regards to the judiciary, a separatist insurgency in Baluchistan, extensive corruption - both civilian and military, freshly organizing relationship(s) of all kinds of militant activity in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, staggering poverty and declining literacy (or rising adult illiteracy) rates, an upsurge in suicide militant related violence, now have to deal with an insider break and fragmentation and the growth of an insurgent, militant force with former, intimate ties to the country's military intelligence.
A civil war, basically, within the most powerful institution in the land.
Manan Ahmed writes about the flour crisis in Pakistan over at the Informed Comment: Global Affairs blog. "The price of flour is 3 or four times the normal rate and that is only if you find any." The price in India being, apparently three times lower.