Although he is already under house arrest for a number of other charges pending against him, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military leader who took control of the government after ousting then (and once again, now) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup, was indicted today on three charges relating to the assassination in 2007 of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The charges were filed in the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawilpindi. From Dawn:
“He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder,” public prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar told AFP at the ATC in Rawalpindi hearing the case.
The six accused persons include former City Police Officer (CPO) of Rawalpindi Saud Aziz, the then SP Khurram Shahzad, Hasnain Gul, Rafaqat Hussain, Sher Zaman and Abdul Rasheed respectively.
Salman Masood and Declan Walsh provide more in the New York Times:
The sight of a once untouchable general being called to account by a court had a potent symbolism in a country that has been ruled by the military for about half of its 66-year history. While the military remains deeply powerful, the prosecution has sent the message that Pakistan’s top generals are subject to the rule of law — at least after they have retired.
If only Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus were called to account for their crimes. But I digress.
The Times continues with interesting information on the basis of the charges against Musharraf:
The case against Mr. Musharraf is believed to rest largely on a statement by Mark Siegel, a Washington lobbyist and friend of Ms. Bhutto’s, who says that Mr. Musharraf made a threatening phone call to her before she returned to Pakistan in October 2007. Ms. Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack as she left a rally in Rawalpindi in December 2007.
Mr. Siegel said Ms. Bhutto had warned him in an e-mail that if she were killed, the blame should fall on four named people — a former director of the ISI spy service, a military intelligence agent, a political rival, and Mr. Musharraf.
It would appear that Siegel now bases his career on his former association with Bhutto and a book they wrote together just prior to her death. Here is more on the email at the heart of the case: Continue reading
Although he has been under house arrest since shortly after his return to Pakistan while facing trial on charges of arranging the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Army Chief and President Pervez Musharraf was given a lifetime ban from holding political office by the Peshawar High Court:
The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Monday banned former military ruler Pervez Musharraf from politics for life.
The ruling came in response to an appeal filed by the former army strongman over the rejection of his nomination papers for the National Assembly seat in Chitral.
A four-member larger bench, headed by PHC Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and comprising of Justice Malik Manzoor, Justice Syed Afsar Shah and Justice Ikramullah ruled that since Musharraf had abrogated the Constitution twice, he could not be allowed to contest elections for either the National Assembly or the Senate.
Isn’t that interesting? In Pakistan, violating the country’s constitution as President gets a lifetime ban from politics, while in the US the same offense allows the perpetrator to open a Presidential Lie Bury.
Meanwhile, as the May 11 elections draw nearer, violence is escalating. Today’s New York Times reports on a suicide bomber who killed nine in Peshawar in an attack that seemed aimed at creating an overall climate of fear rather than attacking a particular target:
An attacker riding a motorcycle detonated his explosives near the suspected target, a police patrol car, on busy University Road during the morning rush hour, killing a police constable and several bystanders, said Faisal Kamran, a senior police official.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although the Taliban have carried out a relentless series of attacks against secular political parties around the country in recent weeks as part of a drive to influence the elections.
Officials in Peshawar said the attack on Monday was different in that it did not appear to target a specific party but aimed instead to foster a broader climate of fear during the campaign season.
Sadly, two of the people who died were Afghan trade officials who most likely were not targeted but merely were victims of the senseless attack.
As stated above, most violence ahead of the election has been aimed at political parties and candidates. It has become so widespread that Human Rights Watch issued a statement yesterday, calling for more protection of candidates and political parties:
Pakistan’s interim government should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of candidates and political party activists at risk of attack from the Taliban and other militant groups, Human Rights Watch said today. Nationwide parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for May 11, 2013.
Since April 21, when election campaigning formally began, the Taliban and other armed groups have carried out more than 20 attacks on political parties, killing 46 people and wounding over 190. Earlier in April, another 24 people were killed and over 100 injured in election-related attacks.
That violence is continuing:
An independent election candidate and two of his relatives from Balochistan’s Jhal Magsi area were killed by unknown assailants on Tuesday night prompting the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to postpone the elections in PB-32.
According to the police and relatives of the deceased, Abdul Fateh Magsi was kidnapped on Tuesday (sic) night and his bullet-riddled body was found on Tuesday morning.
Presumably, Magsi was kidnapped on Monday evening and his body found this morning.
There is a long article in today’s Washington Post handicapping the elections. I’m pretty sure that this passage is delivered without a clue to the level of hypocrisy it drips:
On May 11, Pakistanis will choose the next prime minister in an election hailed as a landmark of democratic progress for a country ruled by the military for nearly half its 65-year history. Yet decades of tradition dictate why democracy has remained more of a concept than a reality.
Even as Pakistan prepares to witness its first democratic transition of power, elite political families, powerful landholders and pervasive patronage and corruption undermine the prospects of a truly representational democracy, political analysts say.
Coming on the heels of Sandra Day O’Connor finally admitting the US Supreme Court should not have decided the 2000 Presidential Election and as the Post and other pundits continue to hype the Hillary Clinton vs. JEB! Bush 2016 contest, what more proof do we need that the US is completely free of corruption and elite political families?
The precarious hold that Pakistan’s civilian government has on power took another severe blow today, as the Supreme Court handed down a decision (pdf) which threatens to find Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani unfit to hold office. At issue is the failure of Pakistan’s executive branch to implement a number of corruption probes ordered by the Supreme Court when it overturned the 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2009. The NRO had provided amnesty to a number of political figures and parties in paving the way for a US-brokered planned transition from a Musharraf government to a likely Bhutto government. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has steadfastly refused to implement the probes, citing immunity. Ironically, the Supreme Court cited the 1928 case Olmstead v. United States, in which the US Supreme Court upheld the use of illegal wiretaps in the prosecution of a bootlegger. The passage cited by Pakistan’s Supreme Court is from Justice Brandeis’ dissent and is an elegant call to observe the rule of law. Although Olmstead v. United States eventually was overturned, it is particularly ironic that Pakistan’s Supreme Court would cite this case in responding to executive branch claims of immunity at a time when the US is once again litigating the extent of executive branch and corporate immunity in a new era of illegal government wiretaps.
In documenting the crisis, Dawn quotes Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa:
Tuesday, Supreme Court’s Justice Asif Saeed Khosa remarked that despite clear court orders, the government and the NAB [National Accountability Board] were not serious about implementing court orders, DawnNews reported.
Justice Khosa said that the apex court was giving a last chance to the government to implement its verdict on the National Reconciliation Ordinance by Jan 16.
He said in case of non-implementation, the court would be forced to take certain steps which would not be “pleasant”.
Khosa goes on to complain that the government has had over two years to respond to the overturning of the NRO, but refuses to act:
He moreover referred to President Asif Ali Zardari and said that the president had, “in an interview, refused to accept the court’s orders”.
The prime minister and the law minister also publicly refused to accept the apex court’s orders, Justice Khosa said, adding that the president and the prime minister preferred loyalty to party over loyalty to state.
It is in response to this failure to act that the written decision cites Justice Brandeis’ dissent in Olmstead v. United States:
In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Continue reading
When Erik Prince testified before the Oversight Committee on October 2, 2007, he boasted that no one under Blackwater’s protection had ever been seriously hurt or killed.
No individual protected by Blackwater has ever been killed or seriously injured. There is no better evidence of the skill and dedication of these men.
At precisely the same time as Prince was making that boast, Blackwater was negotiating a protection deal that would not end so successfully.
The Nation has previously reported on Blackwater’s work for the CIA and JSOC in Pakistan. New documents reveal a history of activity relating to Pakistan by Blackwater. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto worked with the company when she returned to Pakistan to campaign for the 2008 elections, according to the documents. In October 2007, when media reports emerged that Bhutto had hired “American security,” senior Blackwater official Robert Richer wrote to company executives, “We need to watch this carefully from a number of angles. If our name surfaces, the Pakistani press reaction will be very important. How that plays through the Muslim world will also need tracking.” Richer wrote that “we should be prepared to [sic] a communique from an affiliate of Al-Qaida if our name surfaces (BW). That will impact the security profile.” Clearly a word is missing in the e-mail or there is a typo that leaves unclear what Richer meant when he mentioned the Al Qaeda communiqué. Bhutto was assassinated two months later. Blackwater officials subsequently scheduled a meeting with her family representatives in Washington, in January 2008.
This detail–though not surprising–raises more questions than offer answers. Like what the hell word is that is missing before “communique”? Was Blackwater proposing to mitigate the PR problem of public association with Bhutto just as scrutiny over the Nissour Square massacre was most intense by inventing a fake communique, of some sort, from al Qaeda? (Elsewhere in Scahill’s piece, he describes a training course Blackwater offered on al Qaeda tactics, including propaganda. So presumably, they considered themselves experts in creating fake al Qaeda propaganda.
And if Blackwater had a previously unrevealed failure–a really costly, spectacular one–then why is State Department still contracting with them for such protective services? Not least given that Blackwater would presumably be protecting people in Afghanistan against some of the same creeps who presumably bested Blackwater when they assassinated Bhutto?
Moreover, given that the State Department gave Blackwater follow-on contracts after Blackwater failed to keep Bhutto safe, then have they at least done a real assessment of what went wrong? Last we heard from Blackwater publicly, they had a purportedly perfect record. But they don’t. And no one told us that. If we’re going to give another $120,000,000 to Blackwater, have we at least studied, first, what went wrong with Blackwater’s notable failure with Bhutto?
The day after Obama declared victory (sort of) in Iraq, the Administration announced a whole package of sanctions against the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-e Taliban. The sanctions:
Forgive me if I dismiss what are real measures against a genuinely dangerous organization. But I can’t help but suspect this lays the ground work to ensure we have a war against terror to fight (and with it, expanded executive powers) beyond July 2011.
Charging a formerly dead guy
Perhaps my favorite comment on the criminal charges came from reporter James Gordon Meek:
Presumably, Meek is referring to claims a US drone strike killed Mehsud in January, a claim the CIA once judged to have a 90% likelihood of being correct. There’s not much point in arresting Mehsud if he’s been dead nine months.
But the mention of CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan raises a bunch more problems with DOJ’s charges. For starters, Mehsud’s wife–a civilian–was reportedly killed in that January drone strike too. Both the uncertainty the CIA has about its purportedly scalpel-like use of drones and the civilian deaths they’ve caused illustrate the problem with drones in the first place. Civilians–CIA officers–are using them in circumstances with significant collateral damage. It would be generous to call the use of drones in such situations an act of war; some legal experts have said the CIA officers targeting the drones are as much illegal combatants as al Qaeda fighters themselves.
The affidavit describing the evidence to charge Mehsud doesn’t say it, but underlying his alleged crime is the potential US crime of having civilians target non-combatants in situations that cannot be described as imminently defensive.
Charging someone for revenge on CIA’s illegal killing
Which leads us to the crimes for which they’re charging Mehsud: conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to use a WMD (bombs) against a US national while outside of the United States. Basically, DOJ is charging Mehsud with conspiring with Humam Khalil Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian doctor who committed the suicide bombing at Khost that killed 7 CIA officers and contractors.
Now, there’s not much doubt that Mehsud did conspire with al-Balawi. I just doubt whether it could be fairly called a crime. The affidavit describes two videos in which Mehsud stands side by side with al-Bawali. In one, both al-Balawi and Mehsud describe the upcoming attack as revenge for killings in the drone program–most importantly, of Mehsud’s brother Baitullah Mehsud from a CIA drone strike in August 2009.
Al-Balawi then continues alone: “This itishhadi [martyrdom-seeking attack] will be the first of the revenge against the Americans.” After additional declarations of revenge by al-Balawi, MEHSUD resumes speaking in Pashtu, explaining the motive for the upcoming suicide attack by al-Balawi, that is the death of the former emir of the TTP, Baitullah Meshud [sic] which MESHUD [sic] attributes to the Americans.
Remember, too, that al-Balawi was a double agent. The Americans believed he was helping them target people, people just like Mehsud. That means al-Balawi (and presumably through him, Mehsud) knew he was specifically targeting those behind the earlier killings in Pakistan when he killed them.
So al-Balawi successfully killed people who were either civilians, in which case their own strikes at Baitullah Mehsud and others may be illegal, or people who were acting as soldiers, in which case the attack on their base was presumably legal under the law of war. And for helping al-Balawi, DOJ is now charging Mehsud with conspiracy.
The NYT has a disturbing story this morning, explaining that, with the US policy in tatters after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, they’re considering ratcheting up the pressure by allowing the CIA to partner with the Special Forces on operations in Pakistan.
President Bush’s senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said. But no decisions were made, said the officials, who declined to speak for attribution because of the highly delicate nature of the discussions.
Many of the specific options under discussion are unclear and highly classified. Officials said that the options would probably involve the C.I.A. working with the military’s Special Operations forces.
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.
In early December, a former Pakistani government official supporting Bhutto visited a senior U.S. government official to renew Bhutto’s security requests. He got a brushoff, a mind-set reflected Dec. 6 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
… seems like the counter-part to the leaks that serve as the basis for this AP story.
Senior U.S. diplomats had multiple conversations, including at least two private face-to-face meetings, with top members of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party to discuss threats on the Pakistani opposition leader’s life and review her security arrangements after a suicide bombing marred her initial return to Pakistan from exile in October, the officials told The Associated Press.
The officials said Bhutto and her aides were concerned, particularly after the October attack, but were adamant that in the absence of a specific and credible threat there would be few, if any, changes to her campaign schedule ahead of parliamentary elections.
In the meetings with U.S. officials, Bhutto aides did not ask the United States to help protect her but did inquire about the feasibility of hiring private U.S. or British bodyguards, an idea discouraged by the Americans who argued that a noticeable Western security detail would increase the threat and might become a target itself, the officials said. Continue reading
McClatchy is off to a running start in the new year–reporting that Benazir Bhutto was about to hand over to Arlen Specter and Patrick Kennedy evidence of an ISI plan to steal
this next month’s election in Pakistan.
The day she was assassinated last Thursday, Benazir Bhutto had planned to reveal new evidence alleging the involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in rigging the country’s upcoming elections, an aide said Monday.
Bhutto had been due to meet U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to hand over a report charging that the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency was planning to fix the polls in the favor of President Pervez Musharraf.
Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party election monitoring unit, said the report was "very sensitive" and that the party wanted to initially share it with trusted American politicians rather than the Bush administration, which is seen here as strongly backing Musharraf. [my emphasis]
Given Bhutto’s apparent worries about handing over evidence to the Bush Administration, I couldn’t help but think of this story.
Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department. Continue reading
Given my well-known complaint with those who have long underplayed the importance of Pakistan in our foreign policy debates, I feel like I have to say something about Bhutto’s assassination. But so far, the most intelligent thing I’ve seen written on Pakistan comes from AmericaBlog’s AJ:
The first thing to say about Bhutto’s assassination is that any kind of rush to judgment, especially along the lines of impending doom, is probably imprudent.
Unless Musharraf planned this assassination as part of a larger campaign to reimpose his power, I would imagine things are–and will remain–in a state of flux for some time. If Musharraf didn’t plan it, only sort of allowed it to happen with inadequate security, and instead Islamic extremists pulled it off, then Musharraf himself may be subject to a lot more pressure from those extremists. But we don’t know–and I’m not convinced we’ll really know for sure for some time, if ever.
And while AJ warns against seeing this as a collapse into anarchy, it seems clear that Bhutto’s assassination devastates our Pakistan policy. Here’s AJ again:
In terms of policy implications, this is reflective of a massive US foreign policy blunder, in that the Bush administration, in a monumentally stupid move, shoved Bhutto down the throat of Musharraf (and the rest of Pakistan) as a savior, despite her lack of broad popular support and general reputation as corrupt. In making someone who didn’t necessarily have the ability to deliver the savior for democracy in Pakistan, we simultaneously set up our own policy to fail and offered Musharraf a return to (or continued) total power in the event that our little power-sharing arrangement didn’t work. We also — though not only us — painted a big fat target on her back. Really a debacle all the way around.