Saturday, December 29, 2007




It is not yet clear who killed Benazir Bhutto. Two versions have been circulating. Both attribute her assassination to Al Qaeda, but claim thatAl Qaeda did not carry out the assassination directly, but through its Pakistani trojan horses. One version names the trojan horse as theanti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) while the other names it as the followers of Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan.

2. The version about the alleged role of the LEJ was disseminated by a Pakistani journalist of unestablished credibility, who writes regularlyfor foreign online news services. He claimed that Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid, an Egyptian, who was projected by Al Jazeera on May 24,2007. asAl Qaeda's co-ordinator of its Afghanistan-based operations, telephoned him as follows from an unknown location: "We terminated the mostprecious American asset, which vowed to defeat (the) mujahadeen." According to this version, the decision to kill Benazir was taken by AlQaeda's No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri in October,2007, and a 'Punjabi volunteer' of the LEJ carried out the assassination.

3. The authenticity of this claim has not so far been established. Doubts about this version arise from the following factors:
Al Qaeda never claims responsibility for its successful strikes so fast.

It generally makes its claims, when it does, through its web sites, and not through phone calls.

If it carries out a strike through an intermediary organisation, it does not name that organisation.

Pakistani jihadi organisations sometimes claim responsibility for terrorist strikes carried out by them in Indian territory, but they rarely claim responsibility for terrorist strikes against Pakistani targets in Pakistani territory.

Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organisations do not specify the ethnicity of a Muslim. For them, a Muslim is a Muslim. It is very unlikely that either Al Qaeda or the LEJ would say that a Punjabi suicide bomber carried out the assassination.

The call seems to have been made to exacerbate tensions between Punjabis and Sindhis.

4. Subsequently, Brig. (retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema, Counter-Terrorism Co-Ordinator in Pakistan's Ministry of the Interior, which wasresponsible for Benazir's physical security, claimed in a media briefing on December 28,2007, that the Pakistani agencies had intercepted atelephonic conversation between Baitullah Mehsud and another individual from which it was clear that Benazir's assassination was carriedout by two volunteers of Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the recently-formed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. He released to the media what heclaimed was the transcript of this conversation. Col. Cheema further claimed that the investigators had also established that the samegroup was also responsible for the October 18 attempt to kill her at Karachi. For more than two months, they could not make abreak-through in the investigation into the October 18 attempt. How suddenly they made a break-through after her assassination atRawalpindi?

5. Before Benazir returned to Pakistan from political exile on October 18,2007, a person claiming to be speaking on behalf of BaitullahMehsud was reported to have warned in a telephonic conversation with some journalists that Baitullah Mehsud's suicide volunteers wouldwelcome her on her arrival. A spokesman of Baitullah subsequently denied that Baitullah had held out any threat against her.

6. Till now, the targets of Baitullah Mehsud have been members of the security forces and collaborators of President Pervez Musharraf.There had been considerable anger against Benazir in the jihadi circles of Pakistan over her statements that she would allow the US troopsto hunt for bin Laden in Pakistani territory and the International Atomic Energy Agency to interrogate A.Q.Khan, the Pakistani nuclearscientist. They were determined to prevent her from becoming the Prime Minister. Similarly, the loyalists of the late Zia-ul-Haq in the ArmedForces and in the Punjab Government and in the community of retired army and intelligence officers were also equally determined toprevent her from becoming the Prime Minister.

7. Could any of them have carried out the assassination? The evidence available so far does not permit a definitive answer to this question.There are many intriguing questions surrounding the assassination---- was there one killer or were there two? Did the same person open fireat her and then blow himself up or did one sharp-shooter open fire and another blow himself up? How come everyone in Benazir's vehicleescaped and only she was killed? How come the explosion did not incapacitate her vehicle? The driver managed to drive an injured anddying Benazir to hospital. If there were two killers, what happened to the man, who fired with a gun? Why is the Interior Ministry putting outthe story that she did not die of either bullet wounds or the explosion but due to a skull fracture sustained when her head hit against thelever of the vehicle when she ducked to avoid the impact of the explosion? (29-12-07)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )