December 31, 2007

Did The US Betray Bhutto?

Robert Novak thinks we did. After sending Benazir Bhutto back to Pakistan to shore up Musharraf's transition to democracy, the State Department did little to address the security deficiencies of which Bhutto complained on several occasions. They insisted that Musharraf would ensure her protection and then failed to press Musharraf to do so:

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto followed two months of urgent pleas to the State Department by her representatives for better protection. The U.S. reaction was that she was worried over nothing, expressing assurance that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would not let anything happen to her.

That attitude led a Bhutto agent to inform a high-ranking State Department official that her camp no longer viewed the backstage U.S. effort to broker a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and the former prime minister as a good-faith effort toward democracy. It was, according to the written complaint, an attempt to preserve the politically endangered Musharraf as George W. Bush's man in Islamabad. ...

The unsuccessful Oct. 18 attempt on Bhutto's life followed the regime's rejection of her requested security protection when she returned from eight years in exile. The Pakistani government vetoed FBI assistance in investigating the attack. On Oct. 26, Bhutto sent an e-mail to Mark Siegel, her friend and Washington spokesman, to be made public only in the event of her death.

"I would hold Musharraf responsible," Bhutto said in the message. "I have been made to feel insecure by his minions." She listed obstruction to her "taking private cars or using tinted windows," using jammers against roadside bombs and being surrounded with police cars. "Without him [Musharraf]," she said, those requests could not have been blocked.

And yet, with all of this, Bhutto took the rather extraordinary risk of popping up through the sunroof without any protection from bullets and bombs. She had survived two attempts on her life with the protection she had. Why take that kind of risk, one which even the best security cannot completely minimize? Had she remained in the car, she would still be alive inside the armored vehicle along with her companions on that last ride.

In fact, she had spoken at a very public venue, a park, with no problems at all. Security must have done a decent job at that point in screening off assassins. She didn't get hit until she left in the car, and wouldn't have been hit if she had remained in it. With the slow progress of the vehicle, she made herself into an easy target.

That doesn't mean her security concerns weren't valid, nor does it excuse the kind of inaction described by Novak,if true. We helped broker that deal to send Bhutto back to Pakistan, and we had at least a moral obligation to help address the obvious and serious security issues. Relying on Musharraf exclusively under those circumstances would have been foolish and naive. While Musharraf himself had little to gain from her death and a lot more to lose, that may not be true for all those in his administration, and especially for elements of the ISI.

The US had even more to lose. She was our best option, and one might think that State would have kept that in mind. Her death has made the situation much worse than before her arrival, and if a little pressure from us could have prevented it, then the failure to provide it doesn't border on incompetence, it invades it with gusto.


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