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Did Benazir pay for seeking better ties with India?


United Nations : Benazir Bhutto’s independent position on the urgent need to improve relations with India and its implications for the Kashmir dispute may have been one of the reasons for the former Pakistan premier’s assassination, a UN panel suggests.

The three-member independent inquiry panel reached no conclusion as to the organisers and sponsors behind the attack in which a 15-year-old suicide bomber blew up Bhutto’s vehicle in Rawalpindi December 27, 2007, but lists several possible links.

Discussing the threats and possible culpabilities regarding the assassination, the 65-page report released Thursday, notes Bhutto “through her writings and public statements, was outspoken as to the sources of the threats she faced; key among these were elements of the establishment, whose tactics and reach she knew well.”

“She believed that the policies she advocated – a return to civilian rule and democracy, human rights, negotiations with India, reconciliation with the non-Muslim world, and confrontation with radical Islamists – threatened the establishment’s continued control of Pakistan,” the panel said.

Among the positions taken by Bhutto that touched establishment’s concerns was her proposal “to eliminate the military and intelligence ties to the Taliban and jihadis, although many in those institutions still publicly regarded these groups as important foreign policy tool to advance national interests against India in the sub-region.”

Another concern was “her independent position on the urgent need to improve relations with India, and its implications for the Kashmir dispute, which the military had regarded as its policy domain”, the UN panel noted.

Her frequent denunciation of the role of the military and the intelligence agencies in domestic politics, the perception of her willingness to accommodate Western concerns and her alleged willingness to compromise Pakistan’s nuclear programme and allow greater Western access too irked the establishment, it said.

While the military has kept a tight grip on its nuclear secrets and its persistent refusal to allow international access to A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who sold nuclear weapons knowledge to other countries, Bhutto had said that she would give the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Khan, the panel said.

This was yet another concern for the establishment.

Listing Al Qaeda, Taliban and local jihadi groups and elements of the establishment forces that felt threatened by her potential return to power in Pakistan, the UN panel noted: “The Pakistani military organised and supported the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan in 1996. Similar tactics were used in Kashmir against India after 1989.”

“The Pakistani military and ISI also used and supported some of the jihadi groups in the Kashmir insurgency after 1989. The bulk of the anti-Indian activity was and still remains the work of groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has close ties with the (Pakistani spy agency) ISI,” the report said.

“A common characteristic of these jihadi groups was their adherence to the Deobandi Sunni sect of Islam, their strong anti-Shia bias, and their use by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies in Afghanistan and Kashmir,” it noted.

“Given this background, it is not surprising that they posed a threat to Bhutto and what she stood for,” the panel said noting, “Bhutto was not only a modernist politician and the leader of a major secular party, she also spoke out strongly and publicly against the extremist Islam espoused by these groups”.