Plot to Bring Back Benazir

Benazir BhuttoAfter recovering from the celebrations across the country where majority of Pakistanis celebrated the reinstatement of Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Its time to look towards the future of Pakistan, one thing we all hope should transpire from this landmark decision is the courage for other legal departments to stand up and lead the way forward towards serving justice to the people of Pakistan, which has eluded Pakistan for over 60 years. We pray and hope to see a change in the fundamental workings of our court system moving away from bribery and actually creating room for a fair and just society.

Political future at the moment presents a very bleak picture when we see a circus surrounding the romance between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto which has now become an open secret that they have full intentions of becoming bed fellows for five years. The secret was revealed in an investigative report conducted by The Guardian showing that talks have been underway between both the leaders for over three years since 2004. There is an imminent power sharing deal between the two but whatever the deal, both are cunning individuals capable of lying through their teeth even stabbing each other in the back just to protect their precious seat.

It is without doubt that these under-the-table negotiations are already undermining the concept of Free and Fair Elections which Musharraf has apparently promised the People of Pakistan to hold before the year end, if Musharraf and BB talks are true then Pakistan is to be yet again at the receiving end of another 2002 scam referendum look-alike elections, sadly a drama which will cost this third world nation millions of dollars just so that ONE person can be giving legitimacy to rule a jobless and starved nation on 160 million. Maybe all this spare change can better be used to feed the homeless or create shelter for those thousands affect by the recent floods.

I share with you an article published by The Guardian where investigative reporters uncovers the on-going negotiations between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto

The Plot to Bring Back Benazir

Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
Saturday July 21, 2007

The Guardian

Since September 11 2001, one figure has emerged as a mainstay of the “war on terror”: he is General Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan. With his convivial, British public school manner, western suits and blow-dried flick, Musharraf has glad-handed his way around the world, claiming to provide the west with a bridgehead into the badlands of Islamic south Asia.

The west has been willing to overlook his drawbacks. For instance, Musharraf’s military record reveals him as a close ally of the Taliban. Early in his career, he acted as military mentor to Pakistan’s home-grown jihadi groups. He rose to power in a coup d’état, deposing prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999, and has refused to restore democracy. And no one reproaches him about the terrorist plotters at large in the tribal areas of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province – most likely Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar among them.

“He’s one of my best friends,” George Bush declared at a Washington party in 2006, having overseen a 45,000% increase in aid to Pakistan’s military, which now totals more than $4bn.

All that has changed. A chill has descended over “Mush and Bush”, as the Pakistan press dubbed the US-Pakistan axis. And the storming of the Red Mosque 11 days ago – an ostentatious strike against Islamists, killing its leading rebel cleric alongside an unknown number of hostages and students – is unlikely to put him back in favour: this was a seminary Musharraf had let grow since 2002, despite its vociferous endorsement of suicide bombings and the Taliban. While Washington and London continue publicly to characterise Musharraf as the west’s best hope of stopping Pakistan’s descent into Islamic extremism, in reality they have concluded that it is the general who is easing the path of the jihadis. And he must be stopped.

Behind the back-slaps and bonhomie, a plot is afoot to remove the current military leaders and revive an old Pakistani dynasty: regime change minus the shock and awe (and especially without the loss of thousands of lives). The aim – unchanged by the events at the mosque – is to restore democracy to Pakistan and reinstall Benazir Bhutto, the exiled scion of the country’s most famous ruling family.

It all began three years ago, on June 20 2004, at a low-profile dinner in Blackburn where Bhutto, then 51, was meeting old political friends. Many of the Lancashire town’s 7,000-strong Pakistani population were historically Bhutto supporters, but the mood was glum, as she recalls. Pakistan had recently been readmitted to the Commonwealth after being suspended when Musharraf seized control. And, four days earlier, President Bush had named the Islamic republic as a major non-Nato ally, making Bhutto’s hopes of returning slimmer than ever.

She had inherited the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) from her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; he had been overthrown as prime minister in a military coup and hanged in 1979. Having served twice as prime minister herself (1988-1990 and 1993-1996), Bhutto left Pakistan in April 1999 for a speaking tour of the US, taking only two weeks of clothes in her suitcase. “As soon as I left,” she says, “prime minister Nawaz Sharif had me convicted of corruption and jailed my husband, Asif Zardari.”

When Musharraf deposed Sharif shortly after, in October 1999, he vowed never to let Bhutto return, fearful that her very presence would cause an uprising (she bore a striking resemblance to her father, whose term in office was viewed by some as Pakistan’s age of democracy). After 9/11, the west forgot about Bhutto. In London, the red carpets were rolled out for the general in June 2003, when he attended dinners hosted by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, and Prince Charles. Musharraf revelled in the attention – the rigged parliamentary elections in Pakistan of the previous October apparently forgotten.

For the next five years, Bhutto would direct her party’s affairs alone, down a phone line. Her life in exile was centred in Dubai, where home was a pink villa in a gated estate fringed by palm trees, which she shared with her son, Bilawal, then 15, her daughters, Bakhtawar, 13, and Asifa, 10, and her mother, Nusrat, the widow of the hanged Zulfikar. “As the world changed around us, I lived in my own little parallel society – islands of friends, colleagues and Pakistani communities all over the world,” Bhutto says.

At the Blackburn dinner, Bhutto’s host, Councillor Salas Kiani, a British Pakistani who had until recently served as the town’s mayor, had a surprise for her. He passed Bhutto a mobile phone. “It’s Jack for you,” he said mischievously. Only after a minute did she twig – Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, was MP for Blackburn and so knew Kiani well. “Benazir was amazed,” says one guest. “Here was Straw saying, ‘Hi, come to the Foreign Office.’” The conversation marked the first official communication the PPP had had with a British government minister in more than a decade.

Back in 1981, Benazir Bhutto, beautiful, progressive and a graduate of Oxford and Harvard, became a cause for the Labour left when she was imprisoned by Pakistan’s military leader, General Zia ul-Haq. Robin Cook and George Galloway, among others, ran the Free Benazir Committee from London. When Bhutto, then 36, was elected prime minister for the first time in 1988, after Zia’s death, she was feted as one of the first democratically elected female prime ministers in an Islamic country.

The Labour leader, Tony Blair, a contemporary of Bhutto’s at Oxford, attended a private dinner thrown by her and her husband at the Savoy in October 1995, during her second term as prime minister. However, relations with Blair cooled after she was overthrown and her husband jailed. The couple were accused by the Pakistan government of amassing an ill-gotten fortune, including a £2m Surrey country estate complete with stud farm and helipad (they deny owning the property) – in stark contrast to life in Pakistan, where 37 million people lived below the UN poverty line. Jack Straw, then home secretary, refused to meet her. Now, in 2004, Straw was on the phone.

One morning the following month, Bhutto was brought to a side entrance of the Foreign Office, her trademark white dupatta pulled over her face. The meeting lasted more than an hour. “The British seemed oblivious to Musharraf’s record,” a Bhutto aide says. “He was seen as trustworthy – but his primary allegiance had been with the jihadi groups that the Pakistan media described as Musharraf’s ‘ethnic storm-troopers’.”

Musharraf had been director general of military operations during Bhutto’s second term as prime minister, and had requested permission to “unleash the forces of fundamentalism” – Sunni irregulars sponsored by the army and intelligence community – to infiltrate the Indian-controlled sector of the divided state of Kashmir. In 1996, when the Taliban had grown as a force in Afghanistan, it was Musharraf who ensured the movement was armed and fed.

Straw squirmed as this was recounted, says one of those in the room. He reassured Bhutto that his government favoured democracy in Pakistan, but stressed that Musharraf, too, was important. Bhutto thought it hopeless. But within weeks, Mark Lyall Grant, the British high commissioner in Islamabad, flew to Dubai to convey a message to Bhutto from Musharraf. The general was willing to make a gesture: her husband was to be released from jail. Perhaps she should now consider working with him?

Bhutto remained suspicious. She had had first-hand experience of the brutality of Pakistan’s military and the mixture of patronage, tribalism, backstabbing, blackmail and feudalism that made up Pakistani politics. Her father had been hanged; her youngest brother, Shahnawaz, was next to meet his fate. “My aunt had a house in Cannes, so we would all go there for the summer holidays. We loved it, walking by the sea on La Croisette,” Bhutto says. “In 1985, soon after I was released from jail, Shahnawaz rented a place there, too.” She flew in to see him. “That night he had arranged a barbecue at the beach. He was dressed in white, suntanned and charming. Everyone was so happy. He was the centre of attention. Girls used to come and leave their name and numbers on napkins and matchboxes. The next day I got up waiting for him, but he never came.”

Shahnawaz was found collapsed, a broken vial of poison beside him in a murder scene that Bhutto’s supporters claimed revealed the hand of the Pakistan secret services, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In 1996, Murtaza, her eldest brother was shot dead in an encounter with police in Karachi, for which her husband was indicted, though the case has never come to court. “Their deaths were very difficult,” Bhutto says. “I can’t redo the past, so there is little point in trying to think back. But it’s so strange how life replicates itself. So many have tried to kill me, too.”

General Zia was the first, sending an aide to see her in her cell in 1982 in an attempt to cause a potentially fatal infection. In spring 1989, a Pakistan general hired Osama bin Laden, then a little-known sponsor of the jihadis fighting in Afghanistan, to carry out a hit on Bhutto. The plot was exposed. In 1993, two more attempts were made on her life, one by Ramzi Yousef, after he had carried out the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York. In 1995, a group of senior army officers and clerics was found to be plotting a coup in which Bhutto was to have been eliminated.

Bhutto knows the risks, but still she is eager to run for office again. “The time of life is written and the time of death is written and nobody can die before their time is up,” Bhutto says. “The politics of Pakistan is ingrained in our family’s blood, in my blood. It is a duty and a compulsion. I have to return or forgo politics forever, condemned by my supporters as a coward.”

Politics has always dictated her life, even the time of her giving birth. When the military tried to make political capital out of news that she was pregnant with her second child, Bakhtawar, in 1990 by forcing through legislation prohibiting a prime minister from taking maternity leave, she elected to have the baby early by Caesarean section so she could remain in power. And when her husband emerged from prison in December 2004, Bhutto, still mistrustful of Musharraf, formed an alliance with another Pakistani exile, Nawaz Sharif, the man who was in power when she and Zardari were convicted in 1999. Having himself been overthrown by Musharraf, he, too, was looking for a way to reinvigorate his political career. Both outcasts signed a “charter for democracy” that called for elections in Pakistan.

In early 2005, Bhutto was invited back to the Foreign Office. “The talk was of a post-Musharraf world,” one of Bhutto’s inner-circle says. “What London feared was chaos,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman says. “What everyone wanted was a smooth transition, from Musharraf to something sustainable, preferably democratic. Bhutto had a chance of winning an election if that day came.”

At that stage, the US was still apparently backing the gentleman dictator, although, according to a Bhutto aide, Straw advised her that it was beginning to think about change. Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, was at that very moment in Islamabad pressing Musharraf to allow free elections.

A series of bombings on London’s transport network four months later, in July 2005, killing 52 people and injuring hundreds more, brought a new urgency to the Straw-Bhutto talks. Three of the four British suicide bombers had links to a radical madrasa in Muridke, 20 miles outside Lahore.

Straw noted that, in 2001, Musharraf had pledged to outlaw jihadi groups. The Muridke school was now one of 13,000 madrasas, none of which had been regulated as the president had undertaken to do.

Bhutto warned Straw that the PPP would have little chance, unless the Bush administration, too, was willing to look beyond Musharraf and back the call for elections. Straw insisted he had talked to Rice and Washington was reconsidering its position.

The aftermath of an earthquake that left 75,000 dead and more than three million homeless in the Pakistan-administered sector of Kashmir gave additional cause for concern in October 2005. Under the cover of providing aid to the victims, 17 Sunni extremist groups previously banned by Musharraf (under pressure from the US state department) re-emerged with new names. Distributing food, tents and blankets, they opened tent villages, one beneath a banner proclaiming: “Custodian of the blood of 10,000 mujahideen.” The outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba was there, running a field hospital in Muzaffarabad. “Why should we not allow our own people, to go there and assist… whether they are jiihadis or anybody,” Musharraf said at the time.

Yet only a few months later, in early 2006, he was sending a new message to Bhutto, asking that she list her demands. She wrote: free elections; political prisoners released; an independent election commission formed; Pakistan’s constitution [of 1973] restored. The reply came back almost immediately: Musharraf was not ready for this kind of deal.

Meanwhile, Bhutto had competition in London. On January 30 2006, Nawaz Sharif and his family arrived. Ensconced in their mansion-block apartment in Mayfair, he held court on a leopard-print sofa. “We were mobilising,” Sharif tells us. “There could be no deals with Musharraf. No deals. Full stop. It was central to our charter for democracy. We hope Bhutto was acting sincerely when she signed it.”

By now the Americans were on track and Musharraf at last agreed to hold a poll. It was to be staged after November 2007, when the National Assembly’s term ran out. But he insisted that Bhutto and Sharif should not to be allowed to return until after the election. Prospective PPP parliamentary candidates began finding envelopes containing bullets left in their cars or on their desks – similar intimidatory tactics had been used in the previous election.

As direct contact was established between the US and Bhutto, the newly appointed US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, Richard Boucher, urged her not to encourage PPP supporters to take to the streets in protest, as they had done on previous occasions. The PPP agreed. Over a series of meetings, Boucher made clear that the US would not be dealing with Sharif, whom they blamed for putting Pakistan at risk of nuclear war with India in a conflagration over Kashmir that flared up just a few months after both countries tested nuclear weapons.

“But by 2006, we didn’t need the US,” Sharif says. “It was time they realised that, in backing Musharraf in Pakistan, they were going to get their fingers burned, just like they did in Iran. Then, they had kept saying the Shah was safe until one day he was overthrown and the Ayatollahs took over the country. That could be Pakistan’s future, too – Musharraf overthrown and the fundamentalists taking over. We are a better option, believe me. Regardless, I intend to go back. Like Bhutto, I have to go back and fight the election or be damned by our supporters.” Sharif and his younger brother, Shahbaz, were working to rebuild their shattered party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), in Pakistan. But Nawaz Sharif was reluctant to talk dates and timings for his return – it sounded more like an aspiration than a plan.

On the other hand, Bhutto and Musharraf continued to sound each other out through emissaries. It seemed that a major sticking point was Musharraf’s pride. He had never forgiven Bhutto for embarrassing him during a discussion they had about starting a war with India over Kashmir in 1993, when Musharraf had wanted the Pakistan army to launch a full-scale invasion on its own initiative. “This country is run by a civilian government,” Bhutto recalls snapping. “I am still the prime minister.”

In early 2007, President Bush made his first public criticism of Musharraf, warning that he had to be more aggressive in hunting down terrorists. Under pressure, Musharraf leaned toward a deal with Bhutto – if he could stay on as president. The talks stalled again, this time because Bhutto’s supporters resented her being in cahoots with the general. Then Musharraf’s emissaries came up with an even stranger proposal: if Bhutto stayed away from Pakistan during the election, Musharraf would “adjust the vote”. A Bhutto aide said, “We could not believe it. He was offering to rig the election.”

In Pakistan, unrest was building up, especially after Musharraf suspended Pakistan’s chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. In the ensuing mass demonstrations, more than 40 people, many of them PPP supporters, were killed and 300 more were rounded up.

Bhutto stepped up her demands. “We wanted a free vote and I told them I was going back home to campaign for one.” Then she made a remarkable concession: if she fought and won the election and became Pakistan’s prime minister, Musharraf could stay on as a civilian president for the next five years. In another seismic shift, Bhutto proposed that the military retain responsibility for foreign affairs and national security over this five-year period, while her government would concentrate on the domestic agenda.

Publicly, all sides denied the talks. Nevertheless, a US state department spokesman, briefing the media on June 11, was positively bullish. “There are going to be some important elections coming up in the fall,” he said, adding that Musharraf had pledged that, if he “continues in political life”, he will “put aside the uniform”.

Bhutto is committed to returning to Pakistan in September, and informal polls have shown that, despite the rampant extremism in the country, she is likely to dominate the elections. Her constituency in the Sindh had been battered but could be salvaged and built into a movement, she claims, while the tribal areas, in which the Taliban and jihadi groups had made the most inroads, are electorally insignificant.

For Bhutto, the recent siege at the Red Mosque was evidence of the calamity facing Pakistan. “The country is experiencing its darkest hour,” she says – General Musharraf stood by while a religious institution was transformed into a 7,000-strong army of would-be jihadis in the heart of the capital. “Nothing is as General Musharraf portrays it,” she says. “He talks of the army battling militants who are trying to get a toe-hold. In fact, in the border regions, there are thousands of new madrasas. And they are not just madrasas, they are mini-cantonments, ruling the tribal areas through terror. Free and fair elections are the last chance to halt the expansion of al-Qaida and the neo-Taliban.”

Musharraf has reiterated that he is still committed to holding an election, but the pressing question now being asked is whether Bhutto, if elected, is capable of bringing Pakistan back from the brink.

When the military was last forced into free elections, it was in 1988, after a decade of Zia’s increasingly unpopular military dictatorship. Then it stacked the odds in its favour by dumping leaflets from the air that bore humiliating, doctored photographs of Bhutto and her mother in bikinis, beneath the slogan “Gangsters in bangles”. When Bhutto won, despite the slurs, military intelligence stepped up its covert campaign. Much was made of the fact that the publisher of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in the US was the same as for Bhutto’s memoir, Daughter Of Destiny.

Bhutto was made to look like a woman of poor judgment. Weakened, she was forced out of office in 1990, and when she attempted to stand again in the election later that year, the ISI and military, according to documents lodged in the Pakistan supreme court, deployed a £1.5m slush fund with which they bribed religious candidates to slander Bhutto. The election was lost.

Seventeen years on, the Pakistan military, on the verge of conceding another election, may be even more vicious, having evolved into the most powerful economic entity in the country. The military have gone into business by stealth, accruing a fortune estimated at £6bn. Ayesha Siddiqa, a former research director for the Pakistan navy and author of Military Inc, which exposes the new-found wealth of Pakistan’s armed forces, characterises Pakistan as “a racketeer state run by soldiers”.

The military’s empire has been built up by the auctioning of Pakistan’s state assets to its own welfare organisations. Foundations established to look after servicemen and their families now run Pakistan’s cement and fertiliser industries, as well as pharmaceuticals and telecommunications, banking, aggregates, aviation, transport and insurance. Everything – from the Tarmac people drive on to the petrol they put in their tanks, to the motorway tollbooths they can barely afford, to the road hauliers they hire – is owned by the military.

Since Musharraf came to power, originally choosing the title of Pakistan’s chief executive, he has transformed Pakistan’s market economy into a military one. The Army Welfare Trust, created in the 70s with a grant of only £6,000, now has assets of more than £3.5m a head. And Musharraf himself, who has a combined salary of £700 a month for his jobs as president and army chief, has acquired a real-estate portfolio worth £5m.

Musharraf declined an interview with us. However, he has publicly commented on the military’s business world, recently claiming, “We’ve got fertilisers, we’re involved in banking, we are involved even in pharmaceuticals. So what is the problem? Why is anyone jealous? We do things well.”

The Pakistan military, with their enormous economic clout, have become a new political class and ultimately might not care who wins the elections. Regardless of whether or not Benazir Bhutto returns to triumph at the polls, it is the military who will remain in power.


7 responses to “Plot to Bring Back Benazir”

  1. nota Avatar

    Please also keep in mind what PPP and Benazir were upto as recently as 20-07-2007 and I am quoting Dawn. According to PPP ready to back Musharraf:
    Sources said in case Musharraf seeks vote from the present assemblies, the PPP would abstain, following the example set by the MMA in the last presidential election.

    They said the PPP leader had assured the government that it would vote for Musharraf if he sought a re-election from the next assemblies.

    “She has also assured a top presidential aide that the PPP would neither resign from the assemblies before Musharrafs re-election nor let the other opposition parties do so at this critical juncture, confided a senior government functionary.

    Well-placed sources said the tacit unwritten agreement had been reached on this one particular issue between former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and a presidents aide in Dubai.

    and on the same day, PPP and Amin Fahim were saying they “dont see anything wrong in allowing such people to join them as are called turncoats in political parlance and are hated by the electorate. and Amin Fahim did not agree with the suggestion that accepting turncoats would mean promoting political opportunism.

  2. sumaiyya Avatar

    Guardian report has its own significance, but I think we dont have to wait for this report as it all apparent by the acts of BB and musharaf .there are many instances where the duo has shown there coalition. Like, the BB absence at APC, there stance on lal masjid issue, she got freed of the charges alleged by NAB and etc.

  3. shez Avatar

    Very interesting article,altough a bit biased towards bibi, also as pointed out by nota, politics is ripe with opportunism. I fail to see any future government wether PPP or PML-Q or PML-N can improve the life of an average citizen.

  4. Khushal Avatar

    I am not sure what exactly is the General and the PPP upto but i was really surprised at the behaviour of some of the PPP important members (forgot the name) while being interviewed at AAJ TV that they even had no idea about any meeting that was to happen between the government and the party, ! Dunno what they are willing to hide?

    On the other hand PML Q President Ch Shujaat Hussain was a bit more informed about the issue,my opinion about this is that People with bad records should never be given a chance no matter how much they show us “SABZ BAAGH”.


  5. FAIZ KHATTAK Avatar

    god will save Pakistan from theeves killers. the time will come soon when pak army janarals will know that thay are the responsible for all the problems which facing pakistan. i request them please think about pakistan. how you will recognise your identification if something will hapan to pakistan. dear corp camanders please come and say with us. you will feel viry h a p p y

  6. Akash Rabbani Avatar
    Akash Rabbani

    Benazir should never come to Pakistan if the prosperity and progress of Paistan is desired.
    She just wants to take revenge of her father’s execution/death.

  7. FAIZ KHATTAK Avatar

    god will save Pakistan from theeves killers. the time will come soon when pak army janarals will know that thay are the responsible for all the problems which facing pakistan. i request them please think about pakistan. how you will recognise your identification if something will hapan to pakistan. dear corp camanders please come and say with us.