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January 11, 2008

Who Killed Benazir Bhutto? Is Anybody Looking At Condi?

Condi-Bloody-Hands

Looking at this photo, which was included in TIME’s 2007 Images Of The Year, you immediately think of Iraq, don’t you?

The photo was taken just before Condi Rice testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee last October.  As she prepares to sit down, she is confronted — in a stark act of protest theatre — by a member of the group Code Pink.  I thought Iraq, too, at least up till December 27th, when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

If you read through a series of investigatory articles published in late December by Newsweek and its sister publication, The Washington Post, the context surrounding Bhutto’s assassination takes on a disturbing political light — one which the media has failed to draw conclusions from.

At this point, Benazir Bhutto’s death has been consigned as a fateful tragedy or a kind of cruel inevitability for “that part of the world.”  It’s as if Bhutto survived to the age of fifty-four simply out of sheer luck.  The reality, however, is that Bhutto was nothing if not shrewdly tactical in her decisions and highly circumspect when it involved her safety.

Of course, there is no question she was terrifically interested in returning to Pakistan, and resuming power.  What has somehow escaped attention as a central factor in her death, however, is the pressure applied by Condi Rice for Bhutto to return to Pakistan, and, particularly, the representation Rice made to Bhutto — against Bhutto’s own intuition — that President Musharraf was in support.

Writes Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler in WAPO on December 27th:

For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy — and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan’s most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington’s key ally in the battle against terrorism.

It was a stunning turnaround for Bhutto, a former prime minister who was forced from power in 1996 amid corruption charges. She was suddenly visiting with top State Department officials, dining with U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and conferring with members of the National Security Council. As President Pervez Musharraf’s political future began to unravel this year, Bhutto became the only politician who might help keep him in power.

“The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact,” said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

If you read the Newsweek account, you’ll see how Condi imagined a Bhutto-Musharraf dream team.  It was Rice who convinced Bhutto to return to Pakistan and team up with Musharraf, even though Musharraf’s actions, Bhutto’s instincts, and the facts on the ground once Bhutto returned  demonstrated — as consistent with the “fantasy mind” of the Bush Administration — that Rice’s actions were mostly guided by wishful thinking.

Wright and Kessler continue:

The turning point to get Musharraf on board was a September trip by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte to Islamabad. “He basically delivered a message to Musharraf that we would stand by him, but he needed a democratic facade on the government, and we thought Benazir was the right choice for that face,” said Bruce Riedel, former CIA and national security council staffer now at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

“Musharraf still detested her and he came around reluctantly as he began to recognize this fall that his position was untenable,” Riedel said. The Pakistani leader had two choices: Bhutto or former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf had overthrown in a 1999 military coup. “Musharraf took what he thought was the lesser of two evils,” Riedel said.

Many career foreign policy officials were skeptical of the U.S. plan. “There were many inside the administration, at the State and Defense Departments and in intelligence, who thought this was a bad idea from the beginning because the prospects that the two could work together to run the country effectively were nil,” said Riedel.

As part of the deal, Bhutto’s party agreed not to protest against Musharraf’s reelection in September to his third term. In return, Musharraf agreed to lift the corruption charges against Bhutto. But Bhutto sought one particular guarantee — that Washington would ensure Musharraf followed through on free and fair elections producing a civilian government.

Rice, who became engaged in the final stages of brokering a deal, called Bhutto in Dubai and pledged that Washington would see the process through, according to Siegel. A week later, on Oct. 18, Bhutto returned.

Ten weeks later, she was dead.

Like a one trick pony, Rice’s idea was that the symbolism of an election would demonstrate to the world that democracy had taken hold in Pakistan.  (Not like we haven’t seen the scenario backfire in Iraq several times already.)  The problem, however, is that Condi sold herself on the idea that Musharraf would play ball, and then proceeded to ignore all signals that didn’t conform to that belief.

Reality was, however, that Musharraf — as evidenced by his long-standing propensity toward lip service –was never fully committed to partnering with Bhutto, even though his telling Condi what she wanted to hear is what ultimately led Bhutto to return, and play things out.

As Michael Hersh wrote in Newsweek on December 28th:

At Rice’s urging, Bhutto earlier this year agreed to take part in the parliamentary elections, with the understanding that the Pakistani president would keep his part of the bargain by permitting her, a twice-elected prime minister, to serve for a third term (which was banned by a technical rule). Instead, Musharraf did nothing to change the law and instead declared emergency rule—a decision that President Bush did not immediately denounce. Nor did the Americans push Musharraf on the other aspects of the deal that would have allowed her to be a three-time prime minister. “The Americans left her high and dry,” says a close Bhutto ally who requested anonymity when discussing diplomatic issues. “They did not keep their word.”



According to this report, Condi was, again, personally involved in providing assurances regarding Bhutto’s security, taking Musharraf at his word that he had Bhutto’s safety in mind.  For Bhutto’s part, after she arrived home, she did everything she could to telegraph that she was not just at risk, but being hung out to dry. You’ll recall how Bhutto was nearly killed by a suicide bomber in October, the very day she returned to Pakistan.  That instance, too, involved a bomber trying to push through the crowd to her car.

As John Barry writes in Newsweek on December 27th:

After the Karachi carnage in October, Bhutto accused Musharraf’s government of failing to provide proper security.  Administration sources in Washington say that Rice personally urged Musharraf to provide Bhutto with at least the same security as that given to his own prime minister.

Although there was no turning back once she re-entered Pakistan and launched her campaign to regain power, it was pretty obvious to Bhutto from mid-October that she was in a death trap.  The signs and signals were everywhere.  Carlotta Gall, writing in the NYT on December 29th cited an October 26 email Bhutto sent to friend and associate Mark Siegel complaining about Musharraf, and the inadequate security associated with her public appearances.  She couldn’t have been more specific.  She wrote:

“I have been made to feel insecure by his minions and there is no way what is happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides could happen without him.”

On October 26th, Wolf Blitzer also received a now highly publicized message from Bhutto, via Siegel, to be disclose only upon her death.  It detailed the basic security requirements above, and asked that the reporter make it known that the four police vehicles she had requested to surround her vehicle while traveling were never supplied.  …If you haven’t seen the video footage of the assassination, by the way, you might notice that not only was there no escort, but three nearby policemen supposedly tasked to protect Bhutto’s car at the moment of the attack where simply idling around.

Giving the impotency of the State Department in the face of Bhutto’s protection, no wonder the agency was so keen to be part of the murder investigation following Bhutto’s murder.  Surely, Condi and her team had a special interest in throwing as much suspicion on al Qaeda or other “evil doers” to direct attention away from the Administration for committing Bhutto to the wolves den.

According to the piece by Eric Schmitt in the January 2nd NYT, the sniping between the State Department and Bhutto’s husband and widower, Asif Ali Zardari, publicly drew a circle of responsibility that pulled in Washington.

According to Schmitt’s piece, titled U.S. Isn’t Ready to Accept Pakistan’s Initial Findings, unnamed U.S. officials revealed on New Years Day that Bush Administration officials “had differed” with Ms. Bhutto’s people over her security arrangements.

Schmitt fills in the story as follows:

The elder Mr. Zardari … complained that the Bush administration failed to press Mr. Musharraf’s government hard enough to provide adequate security for his wife during her campaign.

On Tuesday, however, American officials fired back, saying they had provided a constant flow of threat reports to Ms. Bhutto and her political advisers, even before she returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18 after a self-imposed exile.

American intelligence officials said they never received a credible threat of an attack with a specific date, time or place. Short of that, they said, Ms. Bhutto, a strongly opinionated, two-time prime minister, decided she would mount an aggressive political campaign.

“U.S. officials repeatedly met with and spoke with former Prime Minister Bhutto and members of her party — including Zardari — to discuss her security concerns,” the State Department official said. “It was general advice, not what route to take or which rally to attend.”

The official said that each time Ms. Bhutto or her advisers requested the administration’s help in getting increased security for her from the Musharraf government, administration or embassy officials pressed her case with Pakistani authorities. On the day she was killed, Ms. Bhutto was riding in an armored car after a political rally in Rawalpindi.

The State Department official said diplomats at the United States Embassy in Islamabad, including Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, were in daily contact with officials from Ms. Bhutto’s party. The Americans passed along information and specific advice on private security contractors to hire…

But Ms. Bhutto and her husband rejected that suggestion, the official said, apparently fearing that even the reputable Pakistani firms might be infiltrated by extremists.

This is quite a telling passage, illuminating — among other things — how much the State Department went into full CYA mode after the assassination, implementing a strategy of blaming the victim.  More specifically, the fact that Team Condi was left to push for private security confirms, in a rather definitive way, how the U.S. lacked the leverage or hope of forcing its supposed client, Musharraf, to provide Benazir Bhutto, his supposed election partner, with any protection at all.

Going back to the photograph, one week after 136 loyalists died in the first suicide attack on Bhutto, and the same day the NYT reported that Bhutto has been barred by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry from leaving the country, Condi — appearing before Congress to hype an attack on Iran based on allegations that would be thoroughly discredited five weeks later — turns her back on a dark haired woman confronting her with blood on her hands.

I wonder, because TIME’s year-end feature came out just before Bhutto’s assassination, what the Western-minded leader might have made of this image of the year.

(image: YURI GRIPAS / LANDOV / UPI.  Washington.  October 2007. TIME.com.)



The Year In Images (TIME)

U.S. brokered Bhutto’s return to Pakistan By Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler, Dec. 27, 2007

(WAPO via MSNBC)

U.S. Fears Greater Turmoil In Region: Pakistan’s Crisis Could Affect War In Afghanistan (WAPO)

Is Rice Rushing to Elections? Washington moves to anoint a Bhutto ’successor’ and push for an immediate vote after the assassination By Michael Hirsh (Newsweek)

Scrambling for a Response: Rice’s regional strategy may have died with Bhutto, endangering U.S. interests.  By John Barry. Dec 27, 2007 (Newsweek)

Pakistan Asserts Link to Al Qaeda in Bhutto Death By Carlotta Gall.  December 29, 2007

Bhutto Sent Blitzer Security E-Mail By DAVID BAUDER (AP via breitbart.com)

Footage of Bhutto’s death Dec 30, 2007 (Video – Channel 4 News/England via YouTube)

U.S. Isn’t Ready to Accept Pakistan’s Initial Findings January 2, 2007 by ERIC SCHMITT (NYT)

Iraqi blood is ‘on your hands,’ anti-war protester tells Condi October 24, 2007 (Raw Story w/ video)

Bhutto Receives New Death Threat, Aide Says (NYT – October 24, 2007)

NIE: Iran ‘Halted’ Nuclear Weapons Program In 2003, Unlikely To Develop A Weapon In This Decade (Think Progress)

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