THE BHUTTO MURDER TRAIL: FROM WAZIRISTAN TO GHQ
AUTHORED BY AMIR MIR, PUBLISHED BY TRANQUEBAR PRESS
The tragic assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto—former prime minister of Pakistan and chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – on the evening of 27 December 2007 in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, hardly a few kilometres from the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army and the head office of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), raised two important questions: who actually orchestrated her murder, and what were the motives behind it? These key questions remain unanswered even after a high-level inquiry conducted by a three-member United Nations Commission, to investigate the events and circumstances surrounding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
The UN team, which took almost nine months to complete its inquiry report, cited a major lapse in her security plan and squarely blamed Pakistan’s former military dictator, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, for her murder. The report released by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 15 April 2010, twenty-eight months after the murder, made it abundantly clear that Benazir Bhutto had been left completely at the mercy of her killers, who took advantage of the poor security arrangements and assassinated her. Those who masterminded her murder, including Pakistan’s fourth military ruler, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, still remain nameless, although the UN Commission had asked the Pakistan government to carry out a criminal investigation of both the suicide attacks on Benazir Bhutto, the first in Karachi on 18 October 2007, and the second in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007 (which resulted in her death), to expose all those involved not only on an operational level but also in the conception, planning and financing of the murder.
Having spent nine years in exile, Benazir Bhutto had returned to Pakistan to lead her party’s election campaign for a third term in office. She had left Pakistan in 1998 along with her three children, to live in Dubai and London, two years after being deposed as prime minister, in November 1996. She had been in self-imposed exile after the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had arrested her husband Asif Zardari, and booked her in several corruption cases. Although the Sharif government was toppled by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999, Benazir Bhutto continued to lead the PPP while staying out of the country. She was eventually joined by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, in 2004, after he was freed from jail.
Benazir Bhutto subsequently decided to return to Pakistan on 18 October 2007 to campaign for the 2008 general elections. As she landed at Karachi airport, the streets of the city were flooded with hundreds of thousands of jubilant PPP workers and supporters who had come out to welcome her. But while she was being taken to the mausoleum of the founder of the nationa Mohammad Ali Jinnah to address a rally, her homecoming procession was attacked by a couple of suicide bombers near the Karsaz area of the port city. Fortunately, Bhutto escaped unhurt but the twin suicide attacks killed over 170 people, including innocent women and children and six police officers. At least fifty security guards from the PPP who had formed a human chain around her truck to keep potential bombers away were also killed.
Bhutto’s cavalcade had been inching through Karachi for nearly ten hours, and it so happened that she had gone down to the command centre of the truck to remove her sandals and rest her swollen feet, moments before the bomb went off. She was escorted unharmed from the scene. However, exactly seventy days after her return to Pakistan, and barely two weeks before the holding of the general elections in Pakistan, which were originally scheduled for 8 January 2008, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.
A few moments before being killed, she had addressed a mammoth election rally in the historic Liaqat Bagh of Rawalpindi. She was happy as the rally had gone quite well. After it was over, she got into her bulletproof white Toyota Land Cruiser and left Liaqat Bagh, travelling in convoy. The fleet of vehicles consisted of a black Toyota Land Cruiser, which was being used by Tauqir Kaira, followed by Bhutto’s white armoured Land Cruiser with two of Kaira’s vehicles on either side of it—a Mercedes-Benz van on the right and a four-door double-cabin car on the left. Immediately behind those vehicles were two Toyota Vigo pickup trucks, positioned side by side. A bulletproof black Mercedes-Benz, which was the backup car for Bhutto, had already left the parking area ahead of her Land Cruiser. Tauqir Kaira, who was responsible for providing the first line of defence around Bhutto’s convoy, was inside the lead vehicle with his private security men. Kaira was also in charge of handling the logistics of getting Ms. Bhutto’s convoy on the way—checking the vehicles and ensuring that they were in the proper place, and so on.
Accompanying Bhutto in her vehicle were Javed-ur-Rehman (driver), Major (retd) Imtiaz Ahmed (chief security officer), Makhdoom Amin Fahim (senior vice chairman of the PPP), Naheed Khan (Bhutto’s political secretary), Safdar Abbasi (senior PPP leader), Khalid Shahenshah (a PPP activist) and Razaq Mirani (Benazir’s personal attendant). Kaira’s two vehicles on either side of Bhutto’s Land Cruiser carried his men and the Vigo pickup trucks carried her personal security guards. Riding in the black Mercedes-Benz were the driver, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar, Rehman Malik (now federal interior minister), Babar Awan (now federal law minister) and Lieutenant General (retd) Tauqir Zia, a former corps commander who had joined the PPP a few weeks ago. As her vehicle was moving slowly, she noticed that many of the PPP workers and supporters carrying banners and placards were waving at her. So a smiling Bhutto emerged from the sunroof of the jeep to wave to the cheering crowd. Someone from the crowd shouted, ‘Bhutto de naray,’ (The slogans of Bhutto) and she joined her supporters to yell ‘wajan ge’ (shall go on being chanted).
Those were her last words. While she was waving to the crowd, a man wearing dark glasses appeared on the left side of Bhutto’s bulletproof Land Cruiser. He suddenly pulled out a pistol and fired three shots at her from a close range of two to three metres. All three shots were fired in less than a second. Bhutto’s white scarf (with which she had covered her head) and her hair flicked upwards after the second shot, and she was seen falling into the vehicle after the third shot was fired. The gunman, who was near the left rear corner of her vehicle, then lowered his gun, looked down and detonated his explosive-laden jacket, wreaking havoc. Those accompanying her believe at least one bullet hit her on the right side of her head, slightly above her temple, and that the bomber had blown himself up after she had slumped back inside the vehicle and hit the seat.
Collapsing thus, Benazir Bhutto fell in Naheed Khan’s lap, away from the senior vice chairman of the PPP, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who was sitting on her left. Seconds later, those inside the vehicle with Bhutto noticed that her face and neck were badly bloodied. As blood poured from her left temple and pooled in the back seat, Bhutto lost consciousness. According to Naheed Khan, she cradled her leader’s head in her lap and tried to stem the flow of blood with her dupatta. Naheed’s husband, Dr Safdar Abbasi, who was sitting at the back, immediately checked Benazir Bhutto’s pulse, but there was no sign of life. According to him, she seemed to have died instantly because of the severity of the head injury. Major Imtiaz Ahmed, Bhutto’s chief security officer who was driving her vehicle at the time, had the presence of mind to drive the badly-damaged jeep as fast as he could, from the site of the blast towards the Rawalpindi General Hospital (RGH).
After a kilometre, the vehicle came to a halt as its tyres gave out. Imtiaz found a vehicle belonging to Sherry Rehman (PPP’s central secretary, information) parked at the kerb with only the driver behind the wheel, waiting for passengers. A bleeding Bhutto was quickly shifted to that vehicle, and her aides desperately sought to get her medical care. Once they reached the hospital, a seven-member team of surgeons and doctors worked to save her life, and even resorted to open-heart massage. The political heir of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was, however, declared dead on the operating table at around 6.30 p.m. It was left to Dr Safdar Abbasi to break the news to Asif Zardari, who was in Dubai. He is reported to have said, ‘I won’t believe it unless I see it myself.’ But soon, Zardari had the difficult task of telling his children that their mother had died.
In one of her interviews, Benazir Bhutto had said that she would like to see her children get married before she died. ‘I remember, when I met my father for the last time in jail, he told me that he would not see any of his children get married. I would say that I’d like to see my children get married and then see my grandchildren. I pray God protects my life till then. …’ But it was not to be.
Five years after her assassination, the ghost of Benazir Bhutto continues to haunt distraught Pakistanis amid allegations and counter-allegations about her possible assassins, thus augmenting the assumptions and conclusions that seek to make sense of her assassination. The there is no dearth of probable culprits to choose from: al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Islamic extremists, rogue elements within the powerful Pakistani military intelligence Establishment, or contract killers hired by her political rivals like General Pervez Musharraf, who was the country’s President at the time of the murder. … The conspiracy theory keeps getting denser every day.
Shortly before being assassinated, Bhutto had expressed these fears in her book, Daughter of the East. “As I prepare to return to an uncertain future in Pakistan in 2007, I fully understand the stakes not only for myself, and my country, but the entire world. I realize I can be arrested. I realize that like the assassination of Benigno Aquino in Manila in 1983, I can be gunned down on the airport tarmac when I land. But I do what I have to do, and am determined to fulfil my pledge to the people of Pakistan to stand by them in their democratic aspirations. I take this risk for the children of Pakistan. It is not about personal power. It is about simple decency and respect for the right of men and women to live in security and dignity and in liberty. And now, in this new age of danger, extremism and terror, it is about something more. Democracy in Pakistan is not just important in Pakistan, it is important for the entire world. So I plan my return from exile to lead yet another campaign. I know it sounds idealistic and to some unrealistic, but after all of these years, I still maintain my faith that time, justice and the forces of history are on the side of democracy. Some people might not understand what drives me forward into this uncharted and potentially dangerous crossroads of my life. Too many people have sacrificed too much, too many have died, and too many people see me as their remaining hope for liberty, for me to stop fighting now.
She ended her book with a quotation from Dr Martin Luther King: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent on things that matter.’ With my faith in God, I put my fate in the hands of the people of Pakistan.