Benazir asked U.S. for security, was turned away

Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide bomb attack on December 27, 2007, as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi. In this file photo, the site of the blast.

Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide bomb attack on December 27, 2007, as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi. In this file photo, the site of the blast.

Two months before her assassination in December 2007, Benazir Bhutto's forebodings about her violent end and her suspicions that elements in the Musharraf regime were out to eliminate her, led the two-time Prime Minister to ask the United States to provide her security.

The U.S. refused, advising Benazir that it would be hardly in her political interests to be seen protected by American security guards during an election campaign, also telling her it was “not productive” for her to blame the Musharraf regime.

Diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks show that Benazir's request for American security came days after her triumphant October 18, 2007 return to Pakistan from exile was marred by a suicide bomb attack on her welcome motorcade that killed more than 140 people.

The return from exile of the charismatic Pakistan People's Party leader had been facilitated by an agreement with President Pervez Musharraf brokered by the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

The two Western powers were pinning their hopes on a Musharraf-Benazir government after parliamentary elections that were to take place soon. But Benazir was convinced that some people in General Musharraf's inner circle were determined to kill her.

During a meeting with Ambassador Anne W. Patterson in Karachi on October 23, Benazir told the envoy she was dissatisfied with the government's investigation of the suicide attack targeting her motorcade, according to a cable dated October 29, 2007 ( >127580: confidential ).

“Bhutto insisted that government officials were responsible for the attack and could not be trusted to conduct an independent investigation,” Ms. Patterson wrote.

The envoy told Benazir that U.S. agencies were helping in the investigation, and that the evidence pointed to an extremist group, possibly linked to al-Qaeda. She told Benazir that “blaming the government was not productive.”

But the former Prime Minister countered that “a number of government officials supported the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

She added “that she would like rapprochement with the government, but does not see how it would be possible, as she believes that some government officials were involved in the bombing.”

Benazir asked if the U.S. could provide her with a security detail. “The Ambassador responded that she was aware of two cases, President Karzai of Afghanistan and President Aristide of Haiti, in which the USG provided personal security and both were heads of state. She added that American security would not be consistent with the movements of a political campaign.”

Instead, Ms. Patterson offered the Embassy's top security official for a discussion on Benazir's concerns; she also pointed to long-term U.S. government “personal protection” training programmes.

Providing more details of this meeting, another cable, dated October 23, 2007 ( >126768: confidential ) reported that Benazir asked the U.S. government “in writing” to undertake an evaluation of her existing security arrangements and recommend additional resources “necessary for maximum protection.”

But that cable, also sent under the signature of Ms. Patterson, “strongly” recommended to the U.S. government that it must not provide such an assessment as it would “inevitably expose performance gaps that would not meet American standards of training and equipment.”

The cable observed that it was “highly unlikely that the PPP would follow professional recommendations not to hold rallies in large crowds.”

Noting that “the USG should either undertake full responsibility for Bhutto's personal security or not,” the cable said the “responsibility for security belongs with the Government of Pakistan,” and that “we will keep stressing to both sides that government and Bhutto's party must work directly together to resolve any questions or issues regarding Bhutto's personal security.”

Benazir had also told the envoy that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence “is complaining to the Sindh Government about the high level of security that the Government is providing” to her. She wanted the government to relax the law and allow her own guards, “her boys,” to be armed, especially as some of them had died in the October 19 attack. According to a cable dated October 27, 2007 ( >127495: confidential ) , the Embassy took up Benazir's concerns with National Security Adviser Tariq Aziz, who “assured Ambassador and DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] the GOP [Government of Pakistan] was doing everything possible to provide for Benazir's security.”

The U.S. concluded that “even with support from the government, serious threats against Bhutto will persist” but was unwilling to take up the responsibility of protecting her.

As advised by Ms. Patterson, Benazir deputed a senior member of her party, Zia Ispahani, and an American called Larry Wallace, to speak to the Embassy's Regional Security Officer about her security concerns.

Mr. Wallace is described in the cable as a person with “close ties” to Mark Pryor, a Democratic Party Senator and friend of Benazir. He is reported in the cable to have told the RSO that “all” U.S. Senators and Congressmen wanted the U.S. government to provide security to Benazir.

Impractical and improper

“RSO told Wallace that it was not only improper and impractical in Pakistan but it would require massive resources to do so. Security could be provided by a US Special Forces Team but it would not make any difference. They would all be ‘fish out of water' since they did not know the local culture and situation. Perhaps worse, RSO stressed, an American team would cause anger and hostility with their presence and raise her profile beyond a safe and acceptable level.”

The U.S. official advised instead that it “was necessary to hire a Pakistani protective services team that understood the indigenous environment, the cultural implications, the physical location, the political issues, and had contacts with Pakistani police and intelligence.”

He provided Mr. Ispahani and Mr. Wallace with the names of the three biggest “full service” Pakistani security contractors who could provide an evaluation of Benazir's security needs.

But, as reported by another cable, dated November 3, 2007 ( >128579: confidential ) , Benazir's security managers from the PPP rejected this advice as they did not want “any outsiders” involved in protecting her.

The cable describes the level of tensions between Benazir's personal bodyguards and the police. It noted that while a police officer of the rank of Senior Superintendent, known to Benazir and trusted by her, had been posted in charge of her security arrangements, “the PPP has also forced their own armed personnel into the protective mix to compensate for their low trust level of any GoP support.”

The cable said no police personnel were permitted inside the perimeter walls of Benazir's Karachi home, Bilawal House, “allegedly due to Bhutto's belief the next attack will come from people wearing police uniforms.” The policemen complained of being denied even bathroom and drinking water facilities. The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan

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Printable version | May 17, 2022 6:24:35 am |