The shocking assassination of Mrs Benazir Bhutto at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, is likely to have been the outcome of a conspiracy involving anti-US, pro-Al Qaeda jihadi elements, the Zia-ul-haq loyalists and junior members of the Army and possibly the Air Force.
Since 2003, there have been a number of terrorist incidents in Rawalpindi--including the two attempts to kill President Pervez Musharraf in December, 2003, the firing of rockets by unidentified elements from a park last year, the attempt to fire at Musharraf's plane with an anti-aircraft gun earlier this year from the terrace of a building, two suicide attacks at the Army's General Headquarters and two outside the offices of the Inter-Services Intelligenceafter the commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007.
The two attempts to kill Musharraf were found to have been the result of a conspiracy involving Al Qaeda (Abu Faraj al-Libi, now in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre), the Jaish-e-Mohammad and junior officers of the Army and Air Force. In the other incidents also, involvement of junior officers of the Army and Air Force was suspected. In connection with the rocket attacks, the son of a retired Brigadier was arrested.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, was arrested in the Rawalpindi house of a woman office-bearer of the Jamaat-e-Islami, having a relative in a Signals regiment of the Army, who was arrested. All these incidents indicated a strong penetration of Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organisations into the lower and middle levels of the armed forces personnel stationed in Rawalpindi. Rashid Rauf, a Mirpuri resident of the UK, who was a prime suspect in the case involving an Al Qaeda attempt to blow up 10-US bound planes in the UK last year, escaped last week while being taken from a court in Rawalpindi to his jail. Complicity of security personnel in his escape was suspected.
Neither the ISI nor the IB nor the Police had been able to thoroughly investigate these cases and establish the identities of those involved. Only the identities of the junior officials involved in the attempts to kill Musharraf were established. They were arrested and court-martialled. But the authorities were not able to establish the extent of the penetration of Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements into the Armed Forces.
Since Benazir returned from exile on October 18,2007, the Zia loyalists in the Government and among the retired officers of the army and the ISI were carrying on a bitter campaign against her. They were determined to see that she did not return to power in the elections of January 8,2008. Benazir herself was worried that Brig. (retd) Ijaz Shah, the Director of the IB, was ill-disposed towards her and had repeatedly complained in public that there could be a threat to her security from the IB.
All the jihadi organisations were opposed to her coming to power firstly, because she was a woman and secondly, because of her statements that she would allow US troops to hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory and let the International Atomic Energy Agency interrogate A.Q.Khan, the nuclear scientist.
Only on December 26, 2007, after her visit to Peshawar, where there were some explosions coinciding with her visit, she had expressed her dissatisfaction with the security arrangements for her. She complained that the electronic jammers issued to her staff for protection against remote-control devices were faulty.
Her repeated pleas to seek the help of Western intelligence agencies for the investigation into the blast at Karachi on October 18, 2007, from which she narrowly escaped and to let her hire private security guards from the West were turned down by Musharraf.
There is likely to be widespread anti-Musharraf and anti-Army disturbances in Sindh and possibly southern Punjab, her traditional strongholds, which may make it difficult to hold the elections and for Musharraf to continue in power for long.