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Musharraf and his men behind Bhutto killing: Pakistani scribe

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : All those in the Pakistan establishment led by former president General Pervez Musharraf who feared losing power following the return of Benazir Bhutto wanted to get rid of her, says Pakistan’s top journalist-turned writer Amir Mir.

Mir, who was close to the slain former prime minister till her assassination Dec 27, 2007, is in the news for his new book, “The Bhutto Murder Trail: From Waziristan to GHQ (Westland),” in which he has raised several allegations against the former military chief of Pakistan.

Mir’s accusation comes at a time when the court investigating Bhutto’s murder is closing in on Musharraf.

The Rawalpindi trial court hearing the Bhutto murder case has ordered the joint investigation team of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency to arrest Musharraf for being one of the murder suspects and produce him in court Feb 19, the next date of hearing.

Mir said he strongly believed that Musharraf and his associates in the military establishment were responsible for the assassination of Bhutto.

“There were pages after pages in the United Nations inquiry commission’s report of evidence implicating Pakistan’s military’s intelligence outfits for their involvement in Bhutto’s assassination,” Mir told IANS in an e-mail interview from Lahore.

Mir’s book draws on personal anecdotes, off-the-cuff meetings, exchanges and e-mails with Bhutto to meticulously re-string the sequence of events that led to her assassination.

Mir, who has won the All-Pakistan Newspaper Society award for the best investigative journalist, says in his book that “just hours before being assassinated, Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated in December 2007, was apparently trying to expose a suspected ISI operation to rig the general election (scheduled to held Jan 8, 2008) in favour of Parvez Musharraf-backed Pakistan Muslim League.”

Bhutto had been collecting information about a rigging cell allegedly established at a safe house of the ISI in Islamabad. She was due to meet two senior American politicians to show them a confidential report compiled on the basis of information ascertained by her own contacts in the Pakistani security and intelligence service, Mir said.

“Patrick Kennedy, Democrat Congressman, and Arlene Specter, a Republican senator in the sub-committee on foreign operations, were scheduled to have a dinner meeting with Bhutto Dec 27, 2007, (the day she was assassinated) during which they were to be given the report. According to a British daily, Asif Ali Zardari confirmed the presence of the report,” Mir said.

“Benazir had herself told me during a one-on-one conversation Nov 13, 2007, hardly a few weeks before her assassination ‘you can name Musharraf my assassin if I am killed.’ Those were the very words she had uttered twice during that meeting.

“Talking about the attempt on her life in Karachi Oct 18, 2007, after her return from exile, Bhutto said that she knew quite well even before returning home that such a cowardly attempt would be made on her life,” the writer said.

Quoting Bhutto, Mir said, “and let me tell you that the Karachi suicide bombings could not have been possible without General Musharraf’s blessing.”

According to him, when he had asked Bhutto why would Musharraf hurt her when she are already trying to negotiate with him a deal, she smiled and replied: “I have almost made him (Musharraf) shed his military uniform, which was like his second skin”.

Musharraf had to quit as chief of the army staff Nov 28, 2007, almost two weeks after he met Bhutto in Lahore, Mir said.

He recalled Bhutto telling him, “He (Musharraf) is under tremendous pressure to quit the presidency, shed his military uniform and go home.”

Bhutto also told him “all those in the establishment who stand to lose power and influence in the post-election [2008] set up are after me, including the general. I cannot give you any more details at the moment. You can, however, name Musharraf as my assassin.”

Mir believes that President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s husband, had nothing to do with her assassination.

“As a matter of fact, hardly twenty-four hours before she was assassinated in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, Zardari had literally begged her on the phone from the UAE (where she was residing) to stop holding election rallies and let him take her place.

Zardari had called her after a suicide bomber was caught at the venue of the Peshawar public meeting she had addressed Dec 26, 2007,” the author said.

Recalling his first encounter with the charismatic Bhutto, Mir said: “I was hardly 18 when I first met Benazir Bhutto in 1987. She was the chairperson of the PPP at that time and had returned to Pakistan a few months ago after ending her self-exile in London.

“She came to our home in Lahore (in July 1987) to condole the untimely demise of my father, Waris Mir, who was also a journalist. My interaction with Benazir Bhutto as a journalist continued till her demise in December 2007.”

Analysing the current situation in Pakistan, after the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, Mir said: “The current situation is not very optimistic because of the growing talibanisation of the Pakistani society, which is evident from the brutal assassination of Taseer.”

He said “the Pakistani establishment’s slogan of the country being the fortress of Islam remains the central idea that the army cares about.”

The spectre of religious radicalism haunts Pakistan and the Pakistanis alike,” he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])