Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bombing in Pakistan: Who tried to kill Benazir Bhutto?

This is a piece I originally wrote for, who had asked its readers to write on the topic of who was behind the unsuccessful October 2007 assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto.

Benazir Bhutto foretold the October 18th, 2007 blast that tore through her homecoming procession, killing 140, including 50 of Bhutto's own guards. What many had hoped would be a triumphant moment for Bhutto, who returned to her homeland after 9 years of exile, instead culminated in what was then one of the deadliest terror attacks since September 11th, 2001.

Bhutto herself narrowly escaped, only to be assassinated in an attack a mere ten weeks later.

There is no shortage of Pakistani political and social factions that opposed both Bhutto and the democratic process she gave her life for. Tribal groups, religious extremists, feudal-style landlords and corrupt bureaucrats still stand to lose power, influence and wealth to Pakistan's still-nascent, ever-struggling democracy.

Of these, perhaps the most virulent hatred of both Bhutto and democratic principals has been espoused by religious extremists, who simply could not stomach the prospect of a woman leading one of the world's most powerful Muslim nations.

Bhutto herself is said to have named names prior to the October 2007 bombing. Speaking to CNN the morning following that assassination attempt, Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI editor-at-large and a longtime friend of Benazir Bhutto, reported that a week before the attack, Bhutto had named three men - Baitul Masood, Hamza bin Laden, and a militant affiliated with Islamabad's Red Mosque - as having been dispatched to assassinate her.

It is not publicly known how this intelligence was divulged to Ms. Bhutto, but the claim was hardly implausible. Particularly tragic is that only now, in May of 2009, as bomb after bomb rips through Pakistan's major cities has the international news media even begun to mention Baitul Masood's name with any frequency.

Baitul Masood is a Taliban leader who had emerged at least by autumn 2007, after earlier leaders were killed during American and allied offensives in Afghanistan. Masood also lead the group likely responsible for the September 2007 abduction of 250 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan.

Hamza bin Laden is a son of Osama bin Laden. The younger bin Laden was said to be battle-hardened as a teenager, and was already a rising figure in the Afghan al-Qaeda hierarchy at the time of the Ocotber 2007 attempt on Mrs. Bhutto.

The Red Mosque, site of July 2007's bloody conflict between local extremists and Pakistani security forces, was a symbol of the looming showdown between supporters of Taliban-style extremism and pro-democracy ." But with 2 of Pakistan's 4 provinces firmly under extremists' control since 2007, it should surprise no one that extremism has reached into Pakistan's capital, and that, as reported by Agence France-Presse nearly two years ago, that the outlying "tribal areas have become the global headquarters of the Al-Qaeda-led terrorist movement."

Media commentators now debate whether this spring's attacks are Taliban-related or the handiwork of Al Qaeda, and whether men such as Baitul Masood have concrete ties to Al Qaeda. One might surmise that working with Hamza bin Laden would be sufficient evidence of a tie to Al Qaeda, but that information seems to have slipped into the distant past.

Then again, one might also presume that having known the brutal example of Al Qaeda in Sudan, and Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan's leadership might have seen fit to invest less interest in what America was doing next door, and invest more energy into the goings-on amongst its own ranks. Perhaps the Pakistani people themselves might have had a little insight about what was inevitably barreling down upon them.

It is true that were a great many who stood to lose much had Benazir Bhutto's come to fruition. Perhaps none more so than al-Qaeda, which found itself in need of another nation willing and able to hand itself over to become the next stomping ground of religious militants and Western armies. And while such forces surely pulled the trigger, there is perhaps as much blame for Mrs. Bhutto's assassination to be laid at the feet of the people and the politicians - the wealthy, the comfortable, the well-educated, the influential, and the powerful elite, who chose ignorance and aversion over the unsavory task of focusing their gaze on the fanaticism in their own backyard.

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