Questions Concerning the Murder of Benazir Bhutto

Owen Bennett-Jones in the London Review of Books:

Benazir_bhutto_1448641cIn her posthumously published book, Reconciliation, Benazir Bhutto named a man whom she believed had tried to procure bombs for an unsuccessful attempt on her life in Karachi in October 2007:

I was informed of a meeting that had taken place in Lahore where the bomb blasts were planned … a bomb maker was needed for the bombs. Enter Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a wanted terrorist who had tried to overthrow my second government. He had been extradited by the United Arab Emirates and was languishing in the Karachi central jail … The officials in Lahore had turned to Akhtar for help. His liaison with elements in the government was a radical who was asked to make the bombs and he himself asked for a fatwa making it legitimate to oblige. He got one.

Akhtar’s story reveals much about modern Pakistan. Born in 1959, he spent two years of his boyhood learning the Quran by heart and left home at the age of 18, moving to the radical Jamia Binoria madrassah in Karachi. In 1980, he went on jihad, fighting first the Soviets in Afghanistan and later the Indians in Kashmir. In both conflicts he came into contact with Pakistani intelligence agents, who were there trying to find out what was going on and to influence events. Helped by the high attrition rate among jihadis, he rose through the ranks and by the mid-1990s, after an intense power struggle with a rival commander, emerged as the leader of Harkat ul Jihad al Islami or HUJI, once described by a liberal Pakistan weekly as ‘the biggest jihadi outfit we know nothing about’.

In 1995, Akhtar committed a crime that in many countries would have earned him a death sentence: he procured a cache of weapons to be used in a coup. Putsches in Pakistan generally take the form of the army chief moving against an elected government. This one was an attempt by disaffected Islamist officers to overthrow not only Bhutto’s government but also the army leadership.

The plot’s leader was Major General Zahir ul Islam Abbasi. In 1988, as Pakistan’s military attaché in Delhi, he acquired some sensitive security documents from an Indian contact. When the Indians found out, they beat him up and expelled him. He returned to Pakistan a national hero. Seven years later, disenchanted by the secularist tendencies of both Bhutto and the army leadership, he devised a plot to storm the GHQ and impose sharia. Akhtar’s role was to supply the weapons.

More here.