The problem with doing anything about it was that important elements inside Pakistan’s military were more committed to al-Qaeda and Taliban than they were to Pakistan. Many military officers, including those of the ISI, shared the same fundamentalist religious beliefs as al-Qaeda and Talban, unlike the great majority of Pakistanis, who are moderate, mainstream Moslems. They had also shared in the huge profits the terrorist groups made from drug trafficking. Among their allies inside Pakistan were the political parties representing fundamentalist Islam, which were also involved in the heroin trade and other high-profit criminal activities.
It was incredibly ironic, the intelligence phenomenon known as “blow-back” at its most dramatic: Pakistan had created Taliban and encouraged al-Qaeda in order to take over Afghanistan, and now both groups were working overtime to take over Pakistan. (When you look at the frequency of blow-back in intelligence operations, you sometimes wonder if intel agencies don’t harm their own countries as often as they do their enemies. India’s version of the CIA or KGB, RAW, has an especially dismal record in that regard. RAW founded the Tamil Tigers to destabilize Sri Lanka, only to have a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber kill Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. And Rajiv’s mother Indira, when she was PM, ordered RAW to create an ultra-extremist Sikh separatist group to undermine more moderate Sikh nationalists. The RAW-created group ran amok, seized control of the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, and had to be evicted by elite “Black Cat” infantry troops in an operation that all but destroyed the shrine. Outraged by this sacrilege, two of Indira’s own Sikh bodyguards assassinated her. All of which brings to mind the question, “Just how ‘intelligent’ is Intelligence?”)
What has to worry anyone concerned with the terrorist threat is the evidence surrounding Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, that Musharraf and his Pakistan Army cohorts refused Bhutto’s repeated requests for more and better security during her election campaigning across Pakistan. Musharraf’s cronies’ claims that Benazir got the same kind of security as Musharraf himself is patently false: Musharraf travels in a convoy of heavily armored vehicles, deploying electronic countermeasures that explode IEDs at a safe distance; in contrast, when Benazir was killed there was no cordon of guards around her and her lightly-armored vehicle. The fact that an assassin with a handgun got close enough to her to shoot her twice speaks for itself, and if she hadn’t fallen back into the SUV after being shot no doubt the subsequent suicide bombing would have killed her if she had survived the gunshots.
What on earth were Musharraf and company thinking in virtually guaranteeing Benazir’s death? I don’t for a minute believe that Musharraf was connected with the actual killing – the same al-Qaeda/Taliban types who killed her have repeatedly tried to assassinate him – but in the eyes of tens of millions of Pakistanis he is as guilty of her death as the gunman himself. He should have guarded her life as carefully as he guards his own, because in reality their fates were and are strangely intertwined. Benazir and the Pakistani military were for all intents and purposes the last two forces holding Pakistan together. The Army has always been the country’s most stable and respected body; even if its interference in the political arena has often been disliked, most Pakistanis have looked up to their military as comparatively incorruptible, as a shield against its countries enemies within and without, and as one thing that works the way it is supposed to in a country of failed institutions. While Benazir and the Army were longtime and bitter foes, the military desperately needed her as proof that their role in the nation’s life was unselfish, benign.
Now Benazir is dead, and the Army’s iconic status died with her. The terrorists and their supporters are a relatively small minority, maybe 10 or 15 percent of the population of Pakistan, but in a country beset by pandemic economic and political corruption the fact that they believe in something, enough to die for it, gives them a power far outweighing their numbers.
If President Bush wants to worry about the “Islamic Bomb,” he would do well to focus on the very real nuclear arsenal in Pakistan and who is going to control it in the future, and unglue his myopic gaze from a wholly imaginary threat in Iran that only he and a coterie of deranged neocons seem to believe in.
More of Schultheis’s commentary on Benazir and the War on Terror can be found in the Dec. 28 and Jan. 11 issues of The Watch.