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Did Bush Risk Bhutto To Save Musharraf?

With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the general consensus seems to be that the Bush Administration’s policies in Pakistan and central Asia are in a shambles, but that has not stopped the Administration’s least credible agency from leaking stories blaming the murder on al Qaeda. Even if that’s true, responsibility is a broader concept.

Dropped right in the middle of the New York Times lead story on yesterday’s tragic killings is this:

On Thursday evening, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to local law enforcement agencies informing them about posts on some Islamic Web sites saying that Al Qaeda was claiming responsibility for the attack, and that the plot was orchestrated by Ayman al-Zawahri, the group’s second-ranking official.

One counterterrorism official in Washington said that the bulletin neither confirmed nor discredited these claims. The official said that American intelligence agencies had yet to come to any firm judgments about who was responsible for Ms. Bhutto’s death.

The likelihood that extremists associated with al Qaeda could be responsible seems accepted by several sources — see e.g., Tariq Ali, writing for the Guardian. But no official investigation has occurred and no one has explained the security breakdown despite repeated warnings. Apparently no autopsy was performed to confirm whether the gun reportedly found near the suicide bomber was the murder weapon. [CNN reporting this a.m. Bhutto was killed by shrapnel.]

In the face of suspicions about possible complicity by the Musharraf regime, and without knowing what happened, our FBI and DHS are giving unverified reports to US media in which al Qaeda takes responsibility. It may be true or false, but we have been conditioned to believe it, so it may be enough to divert attention from reports like this Times article:

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday left in ruins the delicate diplomatic effort the Bush administration had pursued in the past year to reconcile Pakistan’s deeply divided political factions. Now it is scrambling to sort through ever more limited options, as American influence on Pakistan’s internal affairs continues to decline. . . .

The assassination highlighted, in spectacular fashion, the failure of two of President Bush’s main objectives in the region: his quest to bring democracy to the Muslim world, and his drive to force out the Islamist militants who have hung on tenaciously in Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state considered ground zero in President Bush’s fight against terrorism, despite the administration’s long-running effort to root out Al Qaeda from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The WaPo’s Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler report on the steps the Administration took to convince Bhutto to return to Pakistan, with the design of rescuing General Musharraf’s discredited military regime by cloaking it with the quasi-legitimacy of a partnership with Benazir Bhutto.

For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy — and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan’s most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington’s key ally in the battle against terrorism. . . .

As President Pervez Musharraf’s political future began to unravel this year, Bhutto became the only politician who might help keep him in power.

"The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact," said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy. . . .

"U.S. policy is in tatters. The administration was relying on Benazir Bhutto’s participation in elections to legitimate Musharraf’s continued power as president," said Barnett R. Rubin of New York University. "Now Musharraf is finished."

The Bush Administration did not kill Benazir Bhutto; someone else did that. But it appears the Administration convinced her to go back to Pakistan to save a risky policy foolishly built on a despised, repressive military dictator to fight the US "war on terror." Now a courageous woman is dead, another nation is in chaos, the US is further discredited, it can’t account for billions in military aid, and we still have an administration that remains a menace to everyone’s security as long as they remain in office. But the Administration wants us to believe that only al Qaeda is responsible.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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