The official Pakistani Interior Ministry statement today on Benazir Bhutto's assassination begs more questions than it answers. Starting with the alleged culprits.
Pakistan has "intelligence intercepts" indicating that al Qaeda was behind the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.This claim that Baitullah Mehsud's group is responsible is in stark contrast to an earlier Interior Ministry claim, noted both by Spencer Ackerman and myself, that the Sunni-supremacist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group was responsible. The latter are an ISI creation, developed as one of its proxies, rather than a group closely linked to Al Qaeda.
..."We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination," ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told a news conference.
Mehsud is one of Pakistan's most wanted militant leaders and is based in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
Cheema said authorities had recorded an intercept on Friday morning in which Mehsud had congratulated his people for carrying out the attack.
He also said Mehsud was behind a suicide bomb attack on Bhutto in Karachi that killed about 140 people hours after she arrived back in the country from eight years of exile on October 18.
But blaming Baitullah Mehsud as an Al Qaeda affiliate is itself problemmatic. For one thing, he isn't an Al Qaeda leader as reports have stated although his connections with the Taliban are clearer cut. However, if he is in fact an Al Qaeda leader, what was Musharraf doing pardoning him and 35 of his lieutenants in 2005?
Mehsud was also blamed for the October attempt on Bhutto's life, but he later denied ever threatening her and Bhutto herself described him as a pawn in a bigger conspiracy in which the real culprits were "some retired army officers in the establishment".
Others have already pointed out the peculiar nature of the Interior Ministry's statement on how exactly Bhutto died - supposedly a very ignominious death by accident after striking her head on the sunroof lever of her car - rather than by bullet wound as originally reported by eyewitnesses or shrapnel from the bomb blast as one doctor reportedly said later. But for many the important fact will be that:
Bhutto's precise cause of death may never be known because of the failure to administer an autopsy. The procedure was not carried out because police and local authorities in Rawalpindi did not request one, according to IBNLive, but the government plans a formal investigation why this was the case.That's remarkably similiar to the state of affairs after the October attempt too. Back then, Hassan Abbas of the Jamestown Foundation's Global terror Analysis wrote:
Bhutto has asked Musharraf to appoint credible police officers to pursue the investigation and also involve foreign forensic experts. The government of Pakistan, however, has so far refused to accept this demand, giving some credence to the view that the government has something to hide. It is unlikely that any credible information about the real identity of the attackers will be made available to the Pakistani public and international community. That would not be unprecedented, as Pakistanis are still waiting to hear who assassinated the country's first prime minister, Liaquat ali Khan, in 1951.It seems history in Pakistan is set to "rinse, spin, repeat". That may well be a deliberate ploy from the Pakistani government. Western governments and mainstream media have their narrative - they will now associate Bhutto's death with Al Qaeda terrorism rather than local terror troubles, thus ensuring Musharraf's government keeps getting foreign aid to (mostly pretend) to fight extremism, and will be unlikely to look closer.
shamanic adds: Did anyone doubt that al-Qaeda would end up being the official culprit? And even more, that the US government would happily accept that explanation?
Maybe al-Qaeda, through some local proxy, did do this, but in point of fact we're never going to know. Neither the Pakistani government nor the United States government are worthy of any trust when it comes to this story. But I have a feeling that Pervez Musharraf, having just about outlived his usefulness to everyone involved -- his own people, western governments, and the military and security agencies of Pakistan -- will be the next to have an unfortunately fatal run in with a piece of his car.