Ahmed Quraishi: “Benazir Bhutto: A Victim Of American Meddling”


Richard Moore

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Benazir Bhutto: A Victim Of
American Meddling
By Ahmed Quraishi

29 December 2007

In 1988, the United States actively helped Benazir Bhutto¹s rise to power in 
Pakistan. Nineteen years later, Washington has seriously botched a second 
attempt. Mrs. Bhutto is killed in the process.

In 1988, the American preference was firmly conveyed to Islamabad but remained 
confined to diplomatic channels, never made public. This time, however, the 
unconcealed and very blatant support by the United States for Mrs. Bhutto did 
not go unnoticed and might have marked her for assassination.

Rightly or wrongly, people inside and outside Pakistan got the impression she 
was ŒAmerica¹s choice¹ at a time when anti-Americanism is at a peak in Pakistan 
and worldwide. Mrs. Bhutto became the latest and the highest-profile target for 
many people on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border who believe it is payback time 
for the Pakistani government and, most importantly, for the United States.

Mrs. Bhutto¹s transformation in Washington ­ in less than a year and a half ­ 
from a failed politician into a democratic icon, is mind boggling. It also 
raises questions as to why Washington was so eager to install her in Islamabad 
despite her record and despite the legal ban on third-time premiership.

For an entire decade, Mrs. Bhutto was ignored by the American media and 
political elite. The U.S. media had documented colorful stories about the 
ineptitude of Mrs. Bhutto¹s two administrations during the 1990s.

By mid 2006, there was a sudden change of heart in Washington. It coincided with
a gradual increase in American criticism for Pakistan, a concerted U.S. media 
campaign portraying Pakistan as a country ripe for American military 
intervention, and unwarranted focus on the Pakistani nuclear and strategic 
arsenal. There was open talk about Washington contemplating regime-change in 
Islamabad after what appeared to be Pakistani leadership¹s refusal to play ball 
on China, Iran, and Afghanistan.

The last one, Afghanistan, has recently become a staging ground for 
cross-border, state-sponsored terrorism inside neighboring Pakistan, further 
fueling Pakistani suspicions about Washington¹s relationship with Islamabad.

This change of heart in Washington surprised even American political observers. 
One of them, Mr. Arthur Herman, who is writing a book on Gandhi and Churchill, 
was so stunned at how the U.S. media was creating a new image for Mrs. Bhutto 
that he wrote a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, published on 16
June 2006, reminding the American audience that, ³As prime minister of Pakistan,
Ms. Bhutto proved to be one of the most incompetent leaders in the history of 
South Asia.²

In October, Benazir Bhutto landed in Pakistan guns blazing. Her supporters will 
argue she returned to Pakistan because of her commitment to democracy. If this 
is true, she certainly did a good job of hiding it during her decade of 
self-imposed exile. She quite happily spent those years away from politics, 
fighting off a plethora of corruption cases in Spanish and Swiss courts. She 
returned to Pakistan because her friends in Washington suddenly found a job for 
her in Islamabad.

Was there a threat to her life when she returned to Pakistan on 19 October?

Certainly there was. There was a threat to Musharraf¹s life, too, and to the 
lives of a whole list of Pakistani politicians, both in and out of government. 
But she returned because U.S. officials assured her they were forcing Musharraf 
to bring her to power in Pakistan. The now-infamous U.S.-brokered Œdeal¹ 
included forcing the Pakistani president to drop her corruption cases and 
releasing frozen bank accounts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

That¹s the kind of security assurance that probably convinced Mrs. Bhutto to 
return to the same country she voluntarily left a decade ago to escape 

It is not difficult to imagine how this naked U.S. sponsorship of Mrs. Bhutto¹s 
future career in Pakistan was enough to provoke extremists who already view with
suspicion the U.S. role in the region.

Around two weeks ago, Al Qaeda-linked terrorist, Baitullah Mehsud, hiding 
somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistani border, had warned the Pakistani government 
that he was declaring a Œdefensive jihad.¹ Those who study religious movements 
noticed this unusual play with words. In Islam, only a legitimate ruler, not 
individuals, can wage Jihad. However, individuals are allowed in certain cases 
to wage a Œdefensive jihad¹ without formal State sanction if they are under 
attack. Mehsud was basically twisting religion to justify his rebellion against 
the Pakistani federal government.

It should be mentioned here that a segment of the Pakistani national security 
community suspects that Mr. Mehsud¹s rebellion is actively supported from the 
Afghan soil under the control of Karzai administration. Mr. Mehsud¹s fighters 
are well trained and well equipped with all types of mortars, rockets, rocket 
launchers, machine guns, ammunition, and communication equipment that cannot be 
easily available to them in Pakistan.

In October, shortly after Mrs. Bhutto¹s arrival in Karachi, one of Mehsud¹s 
aides, Mullah Faqeer, was quoted by several news agencies active in the 
Pakistan¹s tribal heartland as saying his followers will give her a ³taste² of 
the terrorist backlash against U.S. and its allies.

Mrs. Bhutto¹s overt American ties and her very pro-U.S. statements, often at 
odds with the stated positions of Islamabad, were clearly used as a tool to 
recruit angry potential suicide attackers who would be motivated enough to 
assassinate her.

However, Mrs. Bhutto did little to check the swelling ranks of her potential 


Political rivals aside, the ranks of Mrs. Bhutto¹s enemies swelled manifold just
in the past six months or so, thanks to her highly controversial statements 
regarding Pakistani interests and the U.S. role in the region.

After her return, she had demanded that one of Pakistan¹s professional 
intelligence agencies, the ISI, be Œrestructured¹, mirroring arguments found 
within parts of the American think-tank circuit. And in a press conference 
during her house arrest in Lahore in November she went as far as asking Pakistan
army officers to revolt against the army chief, a damning attempt at destroying 
a professional military from within. She has also said she would consider 
handing over Dr. A. Q. Khan, a hero to most Pakistanis, to international 
investigators, and allow U.S. forces to operate inside Pakistan.

Shireen Mazari, a security analyst writing for The News, advised Mrs. Bhutto, in
a column published only a day before the tragic assassination, to be more 
³sensitive to Pakistani concerns² instead of playing to a foreign audience, 
especially when Mrs. Bhutto¹s sizeable support base in the country should have 
ended her need for such naked foreign support.

Hours before her assassination, observers noticed how Mr. Hamid Karzai, the 
Afghan president who has been highly critical of Pakistan and who is not trusted
by most Pakistanis, singled out Mrs. Bhutto ­ and not Mr. Nawaz Sharif or any 
other Pakistani politician ­ for a meeting after ending his official engagements
in Islamabad. This was interpreted by many as a clear signal from Mr. Karzai to 
all Pakistanis, and especially to his rival President Musharraf, that he was 
endorsing Washington¹s pick for a future chief executive in Pakistan. It would 
be foolish to think that this move by Mr. Karzai went unnoticed by Al Qaeda.

When the New York Times came out with a report on 24 December quoting unnamed 
U.S. officials accusing Pakistan of misusing $ 5 billion in reimbursements, one 
of Mrs. Bhutto¹s spokespersons, Sherry Rehman, came out within hours to confirm 
the report.

³The latest reports,² she said, ³cast doubt on the [Pakistani] military regime¹s
commitment to fight the war on terror.² It was a sad statement, coming from a 
possible future chief executive of the country, reposing undue trust in U.S. 
allegations, which incidentally, happened to be ridiculous. This was not U. S. 
aid but reimbursement for war expenses incurred by Pakistan and required not 
U.S. oversight on how it was spent.

It was classic political point scoring on the part of Mrs. Bhutto¹s 
spokesperson. But imagine the extent of damage it might have done to her 
credentials in the eyes of important segments of the Pakistani people. I am one 
of those Pakistanis who were certainly disappointed.

As for Pakistan¹s national security community, its fears about Mrs. Bhutto¹s 
style of foreign policy were reconfirmed on 22 December, when she revealed too 
much while trying to prove her credentials to an Indian audience during an 
interview that she requested with India¹s Outlook magazine.

Mrs. Bhutto sought this opportunity to rebut earlier remarks by India¹s national
security adviser, Mr. M. K. Narayanan. The Indian official had implied that 
India could not trust Mrs. Bhutto back in power because of what he said were her
³unfulfilled promises to New Delhi in 1988.²

This is how Mrs. Bhutto responded, as published by the Indian magazine:

³Does anyone remember those times or is public memory so short that no one 
recalls the extremely difficult conditions India faced during the Sikh 
insurgency 20 years ago? India was in a complete mess. Does anyone remember that
it was I who kept my promise to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi when we met and he 
appealed to me for help in tackling the Sikhs? Has India forgotten December 
1988? Have they forgotten the results of that meeting and how I helped curb the 
Sikh militancy? When I was prime minister you did not have the Mumbai bomb 
blasts, you did not have the attack on Parliament. There was no Kargil.²

In short, Mrs. Bhutto pinned the entire blame for a whole range of complex 
issues on her own country, Pakistan, essentially strengthening the arguments of 
many of her detractors who insisted for years that she was a Œsecurity risk¹ for
her own country, prone to defending everyone¹s case in the world except her own 
homeland¹s: Pakistan.

If there is anyone out there who thinks Mrs. Bhutto did not increase the number 
of her enemies because of things she has been saying recently, and which also 
happened to match many of Washington¹s interests in this region, please read 
this unedited comment that I received by e-mail from a Pakistani blogger who 
commented on this last interview by Mrs. Bhutto to an Indian magazine. Please 
note the hostility in his tone and then note the anger directed at Mr. Musharraf
for entering into a Œdeal¹ with her:

³Benazir always deferred to India¹s interests when she was the Prime Minister. 
That much is well known. But that she is proud of it and wants to be rewarded 
for it with appointment yet again as the PM, is amazing. By whom? By the other 
servant of India ­ Musharraf.²


All of this should make it clear that, in addition to the terrorists who 
committed this naked act of terrorism against a Pakistani politician, certain 
policy circles in Washington D.C. bear equal moral responsibility for this 

They are responsible for the way they pushed Pakistan into a political mess, 
first by forcibly parachuting Mrs. Bhutto into Pakistan at a time when American 
support for any politician is a kiss of death. And then by encouraging her on to
a path of confrontation with the political elite in Islamabad [The famous list 
accusing three prominent Pakistani personalities of wanting to kill her, which 
was prepared even before her return to Pakistan. And now we learn, courtesy 
CNN¹s Wolf Blitzer, there was a fourth name in the list: Mr. Musharraf himself.]

Washington¹s manipulation of Mrs. Bhutto¹s political moves in the past year, and
the joint U.S.-U.K. pressures to redesign domestic Pakistani politics, coupled 
with intense, mostly U.S. media blitz against Islamabad, all of this has led to 
creating an unprecedented environment of domestic instability in Pakistan. 
Political pundits in Washington would be wise to question whether it was wise to
do this when the Pakistanis were facing off with their own demons on the border 
with Afghanistan.

I am just one of many Pakistani observers who warned their government to be 
careful about how some U.S. media reports were openly talking about the Œrisks¹ 
facing Mrs. Bhutto on her return to Pakistan. It wasn¹t hard to figure out that,
if anything happened to Mrs. Bhutto, it would be used to increase the media 
Œsiege¹ around Pakistan and ensure a government in Islamabad that compromised on
issues like the Pakistani strategic arsenal and Islamabad¹s interests in the 
region and in Afghanistan.

In an earlier column of mine [The Plan To Topple Pakistan Military, 19 Nov.], I 

³Some Pakistani security analysts privately say that American Œchatter¹ about 
Musharraf or Bhutto getting killed is a serious matter that can¹t be easily 
dismissed. Getting Bhutto killed can generate the kind of pressure that could 
result in permanently putting the Pakistani military on a back foot, giving 
Washington enough room to push for installing a new pliant leadership in 
Islamabad fully backed by the West.²

Already, we have seen a special U.N. Security Council session to discuss the 
security situation in Pakistan. This adds to very deliberate attempts in the 
U.S. media over the past few months to demonize Pakistan and prepare the world 
opinion for a possible military intervention in Pakistan on the lines of 
Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is why the Pakistani delegation at the U.N. wanted to take out some lines 
from the draft Security Council resolution passed yesterday after Mrs. Bhutto¹s 
assassination that appeared to be interfering too much in a domestic Pakistani 
security concern. After all, we didn¹t see the Security Council using similar 
wording when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Israel in 1995. 
Needless to say, the Pakistani concern was not heeded.

Pakistani officials will have to be careful about undue interference in 
Pakistani internal matters under the pretext of this recent tragedy, especially 
insinuations that Pakistani investigators somehow may not be capable to deal 
with this crime.

Not that Islamabad is taking any of this interference lightly. Pakistan has 
refused to allow election observers from the Commonwealth into the country due 
to this British organization¹s arrogant bullying and interference in domestic 
Pakistani affairs.

At the same time, Pakistan¹s security and stability must come above anything 
else for all Pakistanis. This column might sound harsh to some, considering the 
occasion. But this Œbackground blunt talk¹ is necessary because of the enormity 
of this tragedy. Pakistan has not only lost a leading and charismatic 
politician, we have also received a severe blow to our stability.

As for the terrorists behind this cowardly assassination, we have a battle with 
Al Qaeda to fight, and a battle with whomever is exploiting the situation in 
Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan. Differences of political opinion among 
Pakistanis should not turn violent. As a vibrant nation, we thrive on our 

Like millions of Pakistanis today, I join the family of the slain former Prime 
Minister of my country in their, and Pakistan¹s, hour of grief.

Mr. Quraishi is a Pakistani political commentator. He hosts a talk show on PTV 
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