August 24, 2013

Pakistan’s former military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was indicted last week on charges of murdering former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and for treason.

Benazir Bhutto was killed during a bomb attack on her convoy in Rawalpindi during an election rally in December, 2007. She had just returned from exile in Britain and Dubai and was campaigning to regain power as prime minister at the head of her powerful People’s Party.

I had known Benazir for many years and was horrified and shaken by her death. I also knew her accused killer, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, making this a very personal case for me.

Though I’d been a frequent critic in the past of Benazir and her corruption-embroiled relatives, in recent years I’d drawn close to the embattled leader at a time when she was down and out in exile. Some of my readers in Pakistan accused me of being “bewitched” by Benazir. Not bewitched, just deeply impressed by this brilliant, intense, regal woman.

I’d just finished drawing up a proposed new political platform for the People’s Party that emphasized independent policy, an end to feudalism, and reconciliation with tribal and Islamic militants on the Northwest Frontier (today Khyber Pakhtunkwa).

Two days before her killing, we had been exchanging emails in which I warned her not to appear in public except behind bullet-proof plexiglass, as do India’s leaders. We discussed various types of body armor.

“Eric, I’ve got to appear before my supporters. That’s the way we do it in Pakistan,” she replied, brushing off my warnings.

Over the phone, she told me, “if I am killed, the murderers will be the Chaudry brothers from Punjab.” Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi were two of Musharraf’s most important backers and wealthy political barons.

Since Benazir’s murder, no evidence linking the Chaudhrys to her murder has emerged. But she was emphatic in naming them to me.

Interestingly, Benazir and I were in London with her son Bilawal shortly before her ill-fated return to Pakistan. I asked her about the assassination of another Pakistani leader I’d known well and admired, President Zia ul-Haq. She dismissed my question with scorn (Zia had hanged her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto), and said “we’ll never know who killed him – but who cares? He’s dead and gone.”

Ironically, her murder may also remain a permanent mystery.
I find it hard to believe that Musharraf orchestrated Bhutto’s death. True, she had outfoxed this not very bright general (she had contempt for all Pakistani generals, and they for her, calling Bhutto, “that girl.”) The discredited Musharraf seemed destined to be a powerless figurehead while the US-backed Benazir resumed leading Pakistan.

At the behest of Washington, Musharraf had ordered the deaths of many tribal and religious militants. He had too eagerly allowed the US military to occupy parts of his country and involve it in the Afghan conflict. But it’s difficult to imagine that Mush ordered the killing of the wildly popular Bhutto when an assassination could easily have failed and backfired. Such a plot would have exposed him to the anger of his patron, the United States, which had been promoting a Bhutto-Musharraf diumverate.

Though I don’t see Musharraf guilty of murder, he seems open to charges of treason for overthrowing the government of Nawaz Sharif and opening Pakistan to foreign domination. However, Musharraf’s cronies and supporters in Punjab should fall under suspicion, as Benazir asserted. The idea that she was killed by tribal militants from Waziristan lacks credibility.

A UN investigation found Benazir’s murder could have been prevented had the government (ie Musharraf) provided proper security.

Musharraf had ordered the arrest and beating of senior judges who are now influencing his case. So Pakistan’s judiciary, never renowned for jurisprudence, can rightly be accused of bias.

Even so, Musharraf has a lot to pay for, including the killing of the most prominent Baluchi tribal chief. The US drone campaign that now ravages Pakistan was approved by him. Pakistan’s fierce generals are outraged by the trial of one of their own, but this time they should allow what passes for justice in Pakistan to take its course. That would be a final gift from Benazir.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2013

This post is in: Pakistan


  1. What can you say about a country where every leader since independence has either been assassinated or exiled; I guess you can say Pakistan. To blame Musharraf for not providing adequate security to Bhutto is caused by personal political vendettas, indirectly charging him with murdering Benazir Bhutto. In the hours after the assassination the scene was washed down with forensic dissolving foam. This reeks of government involvement but certainly not by Musharraf.

    The widely held belief remains that Benazir’s assassination was orchestrated by the ISI, a shadowy government organization equivalent of the CIA, a very powerful institution that makes up the infamous Pakistani apparatus of the ‘Deep State’. The ISI has been accused by the US of backing militancy in Afghanistan, a charge well-founded but not rooted in the ISI’s support of Islamic militancy, than its use for Islamic militants against arch-rival India.

    The darling of Western media and political circles in Washington had vowed to dismantle the powerful ISI network if she came into power, a very likely outcome had the popular Benazir received the chance to contest elections. On her first night of return a failed assassination carried the same stratagem as the fateful one that followed; sniper bullets followed by a suicide bomber detonating an explosion (there is no shortage of gullible men the ISI can round up and convince to fight for their cause under the guise of religion). Even militant groups, who are always keen on claiming responsibility for their acts, denied anything to do with Benazir’s death.

    Benazir had threatened a face-off with an established government agency that operates like a state within a state, which remains the most popular conspiracy theory explaining her death

  2. “The more I read about who killed Benazir Bhutto,the more I feel like I’m trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube.”
    Rubik’s Cube is easy in comparison…

  3. Hi, Eric, I really appreciate your POV which is such a welcome change from what the oiks of western media parrot All The Time.

    But still, here’s the great big hole in your article: what about ISI? You really seem to have a blind spot about ISI, why do you think that is? How can Musharraf, the figurehead, really be behind Bibi’s assassination when she made it clear, a la JFK, that she was going to ‘clean up’ the CIA/ISI? Instead we must focus on a Punjabi feudal baron being behind this? I’d look at Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s actions in removing her security. If anyone needs to be on trial for treason, surely it is he, several times over. I wouldn’t even bother with the head of ISI, because there are several overlapping centres of control that operate beneath the radar of the US Congress that would like to decapitate it. Sorry, that won’t happen, and I say that admiringly of a truly efficient service 🙂

    Of course, Punjabi feudals were behind the assassination of PM Liaquat Ali in 1951 but this sort of thing has sadly happened throughout Pakistan’s history. Her dad Zulfiqar was hanged for ordering the assassination of his opponents, and Benazir herself was credibly accused of assassinating her own brother.

    Pakistan is a very complex country, and you could live there twenty years and it still would be foreign to you. It will survive, no matter what, but ultimately it will be because of solutions that come from Pakistanis, and not imposed from outside.

  4. Benazir may have been an attractive and smart lady, but she was US-groomed and that is a big negative in any Islamic country. Musharraf may have cooperated with the US and made concessions, when that ill-fated war with Afghanistan started, but he had very little choice, when Rumsfeld told him about the alternative. Who was it who once said: “It is more dangerous to be a friend of the US than to be its enemy”? Was that not Henry Kissinger? A lot of countries, that we are told are our enemies, would not be that, if we did not force our western ways on them. And when it comes to religion, we sure do not have any bragging rights over other ones. Without religion the world would be a safer place and a more peaceful one. Not that religions in their own right are wrong, but adherents can be turned into fanatics, that can be turned into barbarians, as we have ample examples of. We hear a lot of condemnation in the msm about the wickedness of Islam, but is Christianity or Judaism any better overall?
    Musharraf amy have a lot ot pay for, but equal or worse murderers are walking around freely among us, because nobody has the power to bring them to justice and the ones that could wouldn`t to save their own neck.
    The UN should have the power to bring war criminals to justice, but that organization has been rendered impotent by the discriminatory clauses it has built into its mandate. The UN is now mainly used the greatest powers to give crime a façade of respectability.

  5. In the age where the only time where we are not being lied to, is when we are being deceived, the truth is extinct.

  6. The more I read about who killed Benazir Bhutto,the more I feel like I’m trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube.I am always intrigued by Mr.Margolis’ lifetime accomplishments and interviews with leaders of other countries…most of them deceased now either through a coup,war or just plain murdered by rival political party leaders.

    I find it interesting that a key player here by the name of Musharraf has been accused of being behind Bhutto’s death.Maybe…maybe not.He made enemies when he denounced Islamic ideology from Middle Eastern countries,but became a friend of Israel.I find this very interesting….yet very disturbing.Perhaps we will never find out who the killer(s) were behind Bhutto’s untimely death.There are simply too many knots and ties to unravel if the truth were ever to emerge.I will post a link for some readers here about Musharraf….and his involvements.Thanks Mr. Margolis for your insightful column.

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