On 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto the charismatic former Prime Minister of Pakistan was assassinated in a concerted attack which involved a gunshot to the neck and a suicide bomber blowing up soon after. It remains unclear at the time of writing if there were two individuals involved in the attack or if a single person carried out the attack.
This attack on Benazir was successful compared to a similar attack on her barely a few months ago. That attack which also involved a suicide bomber killed 136 people and Benazir was saved because she was inside her armored vehicle. The recent attack, according to reports, does not have such a large number of collateral damage and hence it can be inferred that the attacker(s) managed again to successfully penetrate her security ring and carry out a far more precisionist attack. What is shocking is that an armed weapon was smuggled so close to her.
In a press conference after the first attack, Benazir blamed Musharraf for not providing her with adequate security and indeed the first cries of revenge after the successful attack were targeted at Musharraf. The beleaguered President & former Chief of Army Staff (CAS) would find it difficult to allay the obvious signs of the state security being involved in the assassination. Especially since this was a second attempt on the life of an increasingly popular politician.
Rawalpindi, where the attack occurred has not been immune to attacks in the past. There have been repeated attempts made on Musharraf, when he was CAS, and even then the investigations indicted the connivance of military officials with militants. Rawalpindi is called the sister city of Islamabad, and it was in Islamabad that the Red Mosque crises occurred, which galvanized the militants in Pakistan.
Benazir’s authoritative statements and the secret pact she had signed with Musharraf had endeared her to both the West and Musharraf. However, with the unraveling of the Emergency in Pakistan and the subsequent turmoil regarding the Presidents future as Army chief, widened the differences between them.
Bhutto was particularly hated by militant groups, because of her rabid statements against the Jihadi infrastructure in the country. It did not help that she was a lady and had a strong western orientation. In a recent statement, she asserted that it was because of her efforts that the Pakistan sponsored militancy in Punjab had ended. (Times of India, 22 December 2007). This was the first time a tacit acknowledgement came from a senior Pakistani leader acknowledging Islamabad’s role in fomenting violence in India.
Additionally, in an interview to New Delhi Television, which was telecast just before her return to Islamabad, she acknowledged intelligence reports about the presence of Dawood Ibrahim (India’s most wanted terrorist) in Pakistan and promised to extradite him to India on coming to power. (NDTV, 17 October 2007). Such a statement would have raised the shackles of the Pakistan Intelligence Agency (ISI) which has extended wide patronage to Dawood. Ironically, the first attack occurred the day after the interview was aired.
Recent reports have put to rest speculations of Dawood having been sidelined by the ISI, owing to US pressure. While Dawood is under considerably greater international pressure, he continues to be a major trump card for Anti-Indian operations. His alliance with Al-Qaeda would make him a far potent source of destruction. And this has dawned on Indian investigations into the Hyderabad and Ajmer blasts, wherein it has been learnt that Dawood financed these attacks. (Rediff News, 26 December 2007).
The attack has the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda attack and it has been reported that the terrorist organization has taken responsibility of the attack. (Asia Times, 28 December, 2007). Al-Qaeda is known to retarget failed plots and respond with greater chances of success. This was seen in the repeated attacks on the World Trade Center in New York (1993 and 2001) and it was also reported that the Embassy attacks in East Africa in 1996 took place after a similar attack was foiled earlier. An additional feature of an Al-Qaeda attack has been the use of a suicide bomber which was witnessed on both occasions when Benazir was targeted.
The success of the attack has highlighted a glaring failure of the Pakistani security establishment which was already reeling under intense scrutiny after the escape of suspected terrorist Rashid Rauf. Rauf’s escape it has been alleged was facilitated by the Pakistani police (Hindustan Times, 17 December 2007). With the malaise of the security establishment conniving with militant groups being increasingly witnessed, it would be highly difficult for Pakistan to maintain its integrity in the Global War on Terror.
What the attack has further exposed is the major road blocks which lie ahead in Pakistan’s quest to re-establish democratic rule. Benazir’s death is a major blow to this process, for it removes from the scene a highly popular leader and would exacerbate the domestic turmoil within the country.