Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Pakistan Ministry Backtracks On Sunroof Claim (Updated)

By Cernig

I know, I said I was taking today off. But the latest from CNN really needs a mention - the Pakistani Interior Ministry is backtracking on its claim that a sunroof lever killed Benazir Bhutto.
The government also published a reward offer in several national newspapers to anyone who could identify two suspects from the killing.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told CNN the ministry will wait for the findings from forensic investigators before making a conclusion about her cause of death.

Cheema said he based his statement Friday about the sunroof latch "on the initial investigations and the reports by the medical doctors" who treated her at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

"I was just narrating the facts, you know, and nothing less nothing more," Cheema said.

"There's no intention to conceal anything from the people of Pakistan," an Interior Ministry news release said.
And if you believe that, I've got a bridge for sale. The medical report made no mention of the sunroof lever and the investigation is hampered - probably deliberately - by the fact that the crime scene was hosed down with high-pressure water jets within hours of the bomb blast, destroying invaluable evidence.

The Interior Ministry has also produced a wanted poster showing the two men suspected of carrying out Bhutto's assassination and offering a total of just over $160,000 for information identifying them.

Meanwhile, reports and rumors keep surfacing. James Joyner today mentions a McClatchy report that says Bhutto was killed just before she was to reveal evidence of how Musharraf intended stealing the elections to two U.S. senators. The claim comes from Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of Bhutto's pary, but there seems to be no attempt to make the evidence public now. I find it impossible to believe their was only one copy and that it perished, somehow, with Bhutto herself - so I'm writing this one off as political manouvering by the PPP. Even though it's probably true that Musharraf intended to rig the election.

James links that story to another by UPI that claims various intelligence sources say the killing was arranged by "lower- and middle-level officers" of Pakistan's secretive ISI who are "sympathizers of the ultra-conservative Islamists with ties to the jihadis". The report names no names, it's all anonymous sources - but again that's likely true as far as it goes. However, it would be wrong to say that leaves Musharraf sitting squeaky clean on the side of the anti-Islamists as James seems to think. The article goes on to say:
Bhutto's main fear, according to a well-placed source in the intelligence community, was that retired Brig. Gen. Ijaz Shah of the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau would prove a grave threat to her.
Ijaz Shah is one of the senior Musharraf aides who was named in Bhutto's letter to Britain's Foreign Secretary before her death and it's likely he figured in other letters she sent in anticipation of her assassination. He was once a senior figure in the ISI and is now Director General of Pakistan's civilian Intelligence Bureau. (The others named were Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who is also the cousin of PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. The latter made a bid to be interim PM for Musharraf in the run up to the elections but was unsuccessful.)

There were rumors out of the U.S. back in June that Ijaz Shah was to be fired for undermining Musharraf's rule - which Pakistani analysts found very odd since he's always been a staunch loyalist. Needless to say, he wasn't fired. He was once nominated by Musharraf as High Commissioner to Australia, only to have his nomination embarrassingly rejected by the Australian Government because of his previous involvement in ISI sponsorship of Islamist terror groups.

Update Larisa Alexandrovna joins up some obvious dots, and includes this:
Pakistan -under the Musharraf regime - continues to given aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, the very people who attacked this nation on 9/11. Prior to the attack on my country, Pakistan's then-chief of the ISI wired money to one of the 9/11 hijackers and had an American journalist murdered:
"If the 9-11 Commission is really looking for a smoking gun, it should look no further than at Lieutenant-General Mahmoud Ahmad, the director of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time.
In early October 2001, Indian intelligence learned that Mahmoud had ordered flamboyant Saeed Sheikh - the convicted mastermind of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl - to wire US$100,000 from Dubai to one of hijacker Mohamed Atta's two bank accounts in Florida."
Saeed Sheikh's handler at the ISI was Brig. Gen Ijaz Shah.

Update The Hindustan Times reports that the Pakistani government are walking back the narrative even further:
In a dramatic U-turn, Pakistan government has "apologised" for claiming that former premier Benazir Bhutto died of a skull fracture after hitting the sunroof of her car during a suicide attack.

Caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan has asked the media and people to "forgive and ignore" comments made by his ministry's spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema which were slammed by her Pakistan People's Party as "lies" and led to an uproar at home and abroad.

The Interior Minister made the apology during a briefing for Pakistani newspaper editors on Monday.
However, they're sticking to the part about Bhutto's death being largely due to her own bravery or foolhardiness.
Earlier, Prime Minister Soomro tried to defend the interior ministry's spokesman, saying he was just relaying facts that had been told to him, especially about the cause of death.

"We are conducting an investigation and all TV footage, all evidence, that would be available will help in reaching a definite conclusion," Soomro told the editors.

But the editors asked more questions, especially with reference to the medical report of doctors of Rawalpindi General Hospital who treated Bhutto.

They "emphatically pointed out that the report quoted by the spokesman never mentioned the cause of the head injury" to Bhutto. The report only said there was a skull fracture which caused cardio-pulmonary arrest, the editors pointed out. Soomro then referred the issue to Interior Minister Khan. He explained in detail the security measures taken and asserted that Bhutto had a bulletproof vehicle which could not be damaged by a bomb or bullets.

Once she was inside it, she was secure and police vans were trying to keep her car clear of other vehicles. But when she emerged from the sun-roof she exposed herself to an attack, Khan said.

"Nothing would have happened to her even if every one in the world had wanted to hurt her," the Minister added. Soomro was repeatedly asked whether he would allow a foreign investigation into the murder but he asserted that Pakistani experts were competent to do the job.

His denial raised questions from the editors about the offer made by President Pervez Musharraf to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to consider foreign help in probing the assassination.
That refusal will leave many thinking the Pakistani government are still trying to hide something - and of course they are: who ultimately ordered the assassination.

Update 2 In yet another indication that the Pakistani government has no intention of carrying out a throrough investigation of Bhutto's death, it appears that injured survivors of the suicide blast - possibly key witnesses, have yet to be interviewed by police.
New questions were being asked yesterday about the thoroughness of the police investigation into Benazir Bhutto's murder when it emerged that officers had yet to interview survivors in hospital and had only just begun detailed forensic inquiries.
Supporters of Bhutto's opposition Pakistan People's party caught in the blast in Rawalpindi last Thursday said police had yet to visit them. It was Monday before officers examined the car in which Bhutto was travelling and the first arrangements were made for DNA tests on several body parts recovered from the scene.

The policeman heading the investigation was quoted as saying that officers did not begin the inquiries earlier because he had not returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca until late Sunday. An examination of the murder scene would be unlikely to yield much evidence as it was hosed down by firefighters within minutes of the blast and quickly reopened to the public.

The PPP says it has serious doubts about all three investigations into the bombing - one by police and the intelligence services, the second headed by a judge, and a third by the interior ministry into the government's security measures for Bhutto - because it suspects that elements within the state were behind the attack.

Britain has offered to help Pakistan and the US is understood to have quietly called on Pakistan to allow in overseas investigators. The New York Times quoted Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Mahmud Ali Durrani, as saying his country would welcome international expertise but not an independent outside investigation.
Meanwhile, plans continue to eliminate the man the Pakistani regime has blamed for the attack, Baitullah Mehsud. His involvement is based upon an alleged intercept of him congratulating a minion on the killing by phone, despite his having called for an international enquiry and despite the fact that there are no phone lines or cellphone towers in his part of the company.

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