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Dumb And Dumber

Islamabad's bungling after the Bhutto assassination.

11:00 PM, Jan 2, 2008 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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"They are fecklessly pouring gasoline on a roaring fire," was how a western intelligence official in Islamabad described the actions of the Pakistan government in its handling of the inquest into last Thursday's assassination of former prime minister and political candidate Benazir Bhutto. This comment was made in reference to the assertion by official government spokesmen just after Bhutto's assassination that she had died not from gun shot wounds but had instead been killed when the explosion of a suicide bomber caused her to strike her head on the sunroof handle inside her armored SUV.

These statements were already implausible given that so many eyewitnesses reported seeing an assassin shoot Bhutto in the back of the head seconds before a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest. Given the subsequent drop in government credibility (which was already so low as to be almost non-existent), the likelihood President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will have an international, external investigation into Bhutto's murder forced on him increased exponentially earlier this week when newly released videotapes clearly showed Bhutto being shot in the back of the head and collapsing into her vehicle just prior to when the suicide bomb is triggered.

Bolstering the mounting evidence that it was this gunshot wound that killed her is that fact that her vehicle was so heavily armored that everyone else inside survived the explosion. Had the bomb been enough to kill Bhutto it would have killed all of the vehicle's other occupants as well. Intelligence and diplomatic sources in the Pakistani capitol seem to be of one mind in evaluating the government actions as "so inept that they could not have done worse in handling this crisis if they were doing so on purpose."

On December 31, the government went one step further in inflaming this already volatile situation by attempting to cover up the details of Bhutto's injuries. The Washington Post quoted one of the doctors who treated the slain politician:

"the government took all the medical records right after Ms. Bhutto's time of death was read out," said a visibly shaken doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Sweating and putting his head in his hands, he said: "Look, we have been told by the government to stop talking. And a lot of us feel this is a disgrace."

Not surprisingly, conspiracy theories about "what really happened" have multiplied faster than the plot lines in an Oliver Stone film. "We are back in Dallas again. Bhutto is JFK and the number of 'grassy knolls' keeps increasing by the moment," said the intelligence official. "Some of the scenarios are just plain silly--like the one that claims Bhutto's husband had her killed in order to take over her party. The incredible part is that people actually believe the more implausible ones."

The latest shoe to drop in this chain of events is that Bhutto was preparing to deliver a document to visiting U.S. lawmakers Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Patrick Kennedy that would have detailed plans by the Musharraf government to use the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to steal the upcoming election. Reportedly, ISI has a safe house in Islamabad stuffed full of advanced computer hardware that would be used to hack into the network for the Pakistani Central Election Commission and manipulate the results.

Again, however, the regime in power has not done itself any favors by deciding to postpone the January 8 elections until February 18, which only adds weight to speculation that those in the Musharraf regime are up to no good.

This growing instability within Pakistan after the Bhutto assassination and the recent imposition of martial law by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has increased anxieties worldwide about what would become of the nation's nuclear arsenal in the event of an overthrow of the regime or escalating political violence. Western diplomatic sources state that there are procedures in place to make sure that Islamabad's nuclear weapons remain secure, but the overall situation remains so unpredictable that the issue of "who controls the Islamic bomb" has now even made its way into the rhetoric of the candidates standing for election in the Iowa caucuses.