The chief suspects in the Bhutto assassination, as of forty eight hours ago, were lower and mid-level officers of Pakistan’s ISI, intelligence agency, and the Pakitani army.
Bhutto’s history with the ISI is long, tangled and, on the ISI’s side, murderous. The ISI or Inter-Service Intelligence agency was created in 1948, manned by officers from the three armed services. Pakistan became a fundamentalist Islamic state under the 1980s leadership of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq who assigned it to keep an eye on Bhutto’s Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP) among other things. In fact, according to an Indian counterintelligence source, B Raman, with whom I used to stay in close touch, the ISI’s Internal Political Division poisoned two of Bhutto’s brothers on the French Rivera in 1985, to try to scare her out returning to Pakistan in order to run not only the PPP but another group she had started, the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). She ignored Zia and returned.
When Bhutto entered her first term as PM in 1988, she tried to reduce the ISI’s powers and boost the clout of the Intelligence Bureau or IB founded in 1947. Usually a Lt. Gen. heads the ISI, but Bhutto put in a major general close to her father. This was bitterly resented.
When she became PM again in 1993, Bhutto followed the custom of letting an Lt. General of the Army head the ISI. But she transferred the handling of operations supporting the Taliban from ISI to the Interior Ministry. It was at this time she began to work with Gen. Musharraf who was ISI’s DG of Military Ops. But factions within the ISI detested her, and in 1996, assassinated her only remaining brother outside his house Karachi in September, according to former US officials. A former ISI station chief in New Delhi hatched a plot to assassinate her in 1995, but the plan was foiled. Once Bhutto was in exile, Musharraf toppled PM Narwaz Sharif in 1999, and in the tradition of Zia, Musharraf, tied to weaken the PPP which has its chief base in Sind, the Sindhis basically a group with a lot of Sufi influence and given to religious tolerance. Musharraf set up a secret task force to wreck the PPP and scatter the Sindh nationalists. To do this it began to collaborate with the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI), which is a jihadi group with ties to bin Laden.Musharraf also boosted collaboration with other dangerous terrorist organizations in aiding the Taliban. In fact, in 2001, US intelligence analysts had targeted Gen. Mohammad Aziz of ISI, Lt. Gen. Hami Gull, Lt. Gen. Avid Nadir and others. All had ties to al Aida and after the attacks of 9/11, they were removed thanks to US pressure.
I remember talking to a State Dept official about these generals, and he said, "That’s interesting – fifteen minutes ago those names were on my classified briefing screen."
There were other groups just as dangerous such as the Hizbut-Tehrir that has many followers in the lower levels of the army does the Harkat-ul-al-Islami
September 11 changed everything,.and Musharraf had to abruptly stand his policy towards Afghanistan on its head. The ISI still supported the Taliban, but by then bin Laden had bought the group for $100 million, according to CIA officials. Suddenly Pakistan was a major front in the war on terror and the US soon installed and still maintains four military bases on Pakistani soil that no Pakistani can set foot in. Naturally, many of the old Zia loyalists and bin Laden sympathizers saw Musharraf as a turncoat and they have tried to kill him for being an American tool.
But for many ISI segments its closeness to othe jihadis hardly changed because of America’s tragedy. As a serving US intelligence analyst said to me in 2003, "It’s worrying when half of your lower and mid-level Pakistani intelligence analysts have bin Laden screen savers on their computers."
In any case, attacks on Musharraf were stepped up. When he visited Rawalpindi in December of 2003, rockets were fired at his car. In early 2007, there was an attempt to shoot down plane using anti-aircraft fire. After Musharraf ordered a bloody commando raid on the Red Mosque in Islamabad last July, there were two suicide attacks on the army’s general HQ and two attacks on the ISI offices. Following the attacks, lower ranking army and air force officers were arrested and it was revealed they had ties to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a jihadi group. But the investigations stopped at the bottom. No senior officers were arrested and the probe is dead is as dead Julius Caesar.
Bhutto was certainly a marked woman from the time she returned to Pakistan. If parts of the ISI detested Musharraf, they abominated her. She said two things that sealed her fate. She said that if elected PM, she would allow US forces to hunt for bin Laden on Pakistani soil, and that she would allow the Vienna-based IAEA to interrogate the rogue nuclear scientist, AQ Khan about his nuclear smugglings to North Korea, Iran, Libya, etc. After those statements, she had no chance of surviving. Pakistan’s deteriorating internal situation and its role in helping to destabilize Afghanistan were part of the reason the US wanted to reinsert Benazir Bhutto as the new prime minister. According to the South Asia Analysis think-tank, incidents of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan increased from 17 in 2005 to 123 in 2006 and has already touched 140 so far this year. The fact that these assaults were launched and coordinated from Pakistan was their most ominous element. Pakistan was known to be providing camps for terrorists and helping to train them, allegedly with ISI assistance, US officials said.
But worst of all was the fact that within Pakistan terrorist incidents had dramatically increased. There has been an average of four acts of suicide terrorism per month in Pakistani territory as against 12 per month in Afghan territory, and some of those in Pakistan were particularly grisly like the attack of Dec. 17 where nine members of the Pakistan Army soccer team were killed in Khoat in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).
In all, there have been within Pakistan 54 attacks to date. Thirty four of these were against military targets, including one against the US-trained Special Services Group (SSG) in Tarbela, the two against the Inter-Services Intelligence, the two against the General Headquarters of the Army in Rawalpindi, one against the Air Force in Sargodha. Ten attacks were made on the police, and four were made against civilians, including the Oct. 18 attack on Bhutto that killed 140. The NWFP was Bhutto’s political base, and her main strength was in the rural Sindh. Bhutto used to have strength among the the Seraikis in the Punjab but she lost ground among the Pashtuns when Musharaff seduced from Bhutto’s ranks one Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, a pro-Musharraf Pashtun leader of the NWFP. As his reward, Sherpao got the interior ministry and set up his own PPP in rivalry with Bhutto. Two attempts were then made to kill him, along with Amir Muqam, another pro-Musharraf Pashtun leader who was targeted by a suicide bomber. Both escaped.
The Pakistani armed forces have been waging bloody clashes in the Swat valley in NWFP but Pakistani control there is tenuous at best. Not only were the terrorists gaining ground in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but jihadi activity had in fact spread to the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of the Northwest Frontier Provinces NWFP. Bhutto was to change this as prime minister. She would get additional US intelligence assistance, and the NWFP would be the base for a new counter offensive against jihidi groups such as the new pro-Al Qaeda Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of Maulana Fazlullah, popularly known as Maulana FM Radio
But Bhutto had profound enemies in the army and air force where she was seen as a front man for American interests, a proxy, "a bought dog," as one former Pakistani official said to me.
If I can offer an opinion, I think the Bush diplomacy that resurrected her was purblind to the point of dense stupidity, and, under the guise of promoting democracy, she was misled by her own sense of vanity and invulnerability and her liking to be liked by Americans.
When I think of her dying in the way she did, one can only fill with painful sorrow.
With greetings to all,