“Benazir Bhutto was so fearful for her life that she tried to hire British and American security experts to protect her,” The Sunday Telegraph reveals. Her entourage even approached Blackwater. They might have been able to protect her life but they would have destroyed her image. She was even directly receiving confidential U.S. intelligence about militant threats to her life. The intelligence was clearly inadequate.
Whenever a dramatic and unexpected event occurs, some journalists try and find out what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Many more pick up the phone and hunt down some well-respected “expert” who’s only too happy to pump some certainty into a mighty void. Bruce Riedel, a former defense and intelligence official and currently senior fellow at the Brookings Institute is just such a person. The day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Riedel was quick to assert that this “was almost certainly the work of al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s Pakistani allies.” How did he know? He didn’t, but how many news editors would find fault in quoting the opinion of a Brookings sage? Three days later, many of the fast-talking experts are now starting to sound a bit foolish — Riedel’s own certainty quickly backed off into a “hunch” — so the only expertise still worth noting is that which underlines the uncertainty rather than makes the pretense of knowledge. Only now are the papers finding column space for a more considered and circumspect analysis. From an assassination which supposedly had “al Qaeda” written all over it, the signature is now acknowledged as being quite hard to decipher. As the Los Angeles Times notes:
Several analysts said the use of a handgun in addition to explosives is a departure for militant groups in Pakistan. “This is not by any means a signature killing by Al Qaeda,” security analyst Nasim Zehra said. “A targeted shooting, even in combination with a familiar suicide bombing, makes it look more like a political killing than one by some militant group.”
While facts remain hard to come by, a number of possibly useful observations can be made. Western politicians want to characterize Bhutto’s death in symbolic terms — this was an attack on democracy, an attack on the freedom and power of Muslim women, or some such pernicious act. But to see that as the effect is not to discern the intent. Much more likely this was first and foremost a successful attempt to prevent Bhutto becoming prime minister. This was indeed a political assassination and suspicion should fall first on those whose power is threatened rather than on those whose ambitions are expanding.
The jihadist signature was that the attackers gave up their lives, but it now seems unclear that that was the intent of the gunman. The fact that he wore dark glasses at least suggests that he might have entertained the hope that he was going to make a getaway. What his handlers hadn’t told him was that as soon as he completed his mission, a jihadist foot soldier — unknown to the gunman — was going to make sure that the assassin would never tell his tale.
As for what we can now say about the Bhutto family, the perpetuation of the dynasty and of the Benazir legend are upper most in their minds. The mystery surrounding her death provides yet more grist to their political mill.