Tuesday, January 01, 2008

More troubling questions about the Bhutto assassination

The Pakistani government is raising a lot more questions than it is providing answers in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto herself sent an e-mail to be released in the event of her assassination that blames Pakistan's leader, Pervez Musharrif, who she believed was behind blocking a request to have the FBI and Scotland Yard investigate a bombing at one of her rallies on October 18, and subsequent moves to reduce her security when she had asked for more.

It does seem very likely that the bombing was carried out (as claimed) by radical Islamists, almost certainly associated with al-Qaeda. I don't buy into the theory that some in Pakistan and a few in the United States have claimed that Pakistani security were directly involved and tried to make it look like al-Qaeda because 1. that ascribes to them a level of competence and sophistication that frankly they don't have; 2. it is hard to imagine Pervez Musharrif inspiring a suicide bomber to give up his life for the regime; and 3. it would be illogical for the Musharrif regime to do so because there are enough real Islamicists in Pakistan who wanted Bhutto dead that they would only need to take a step back and let them kill her.

It is this last possibility, however, which seems at least distressingly close to the most likely scenario. Bhutto was widely disliked and distrusted both by the Musharrif dictatorship and by Islamic radicals within the army itself, and that has been widely reported. There is no reason why they would have blocked outside agencies from investigating the October 18 blast unless there were something to hide. And to reduce security when she asked that it be increased seems inexplicable unless they were actually hoping that it would fail. There are reports that even the security that was provided, mainly local police, abandoned their posts as the rally last Thursday droned on longer than expected.

Most damning however is the set of contradictory reports regarding the cause of her death. Within thirty-six hours it went from bullet wounds to shrapnel and then to a report that she had bashed her head against a lever on the sunroof of her minivan after the explosion.

This may not seem important, but it is in Pakistan. To be killed while standing for what you believe in is seen as a martyr's death and is much more inspirational than to be killed in an accident. Martyrs hold a special place in the Islamic world and are valued as inspirational leaders in a way which western culture has trouble understanding.

For this reason, some had tried to portray it as her fault that she 'just happened to clumsily bash her own head while ducking while she was coincidentally being shot at' in order to deny her a martyr's death. That seeems odd to me, reminding me of the case in Belen, New Mexico some years ago when I lived there when a 21 year old thug was charged with murder after he had jumped on the chest and head of an 89 year old woman, who was pronounced dead at a hospital. Originally the diagnosis was that he ahd caused her death by crushing her windpipe, but then it turned out that she had died from a massive heart attack, which she apparently suffered moments before he landed on her windpipe, while he was still jumping on her chest. So his lawyer tried to get them to throw out the murder charge, arguing that she had died from the heart attack, which she coincidentally just happened to have while this guy was jumping on her chest and the prosecution couldn't prove that the two events were related. I don't remember how that one turned out, in fact I think I left the state before they ruled on the motion. But common sense dictates that he was responsible for her death, regardless how it happened, and the same kind of common sense is that Bhutto was assassinated no matter what the immediate cause of death was.

However, a videotape made of the assassination shows clearly that she was shot and fell back into the vehicle before the attacker blew himself up. That makes a huge difference because not only does it prove that she did indeed die specifically of wounds suffered by the gunshots (as people who were in the vehicle have been saying) but that the story put out by the government is simply a fabrication. For them to have said something like that is stupid in 2007 (or 2008) when it is virtually certain that at a public event like that there would be hundreds of video cameras, cell phones and other video recording devices. Like I said before though, competence is not their strong suit.

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