Friday, October 19, 2007

Bhutto Return Met with Violence

Benazir Bhutto's long London exile ended literally with a bang as bombs almost killed her as she wended her way through Karachi's streets to Jinnah's tomb to make a speech. I've been to Karachi several times and know the neighborhood around the tomb. Back alleys and warrens of homes and hovels, I once got lost nearby going to a dentist in an emergency for a broken tooth right in the area---Bhutto herself should have flown to the tomb via helicopter despite her desire to let the crowds see her. Now over 100 are dead because of her misjudgment.

My "sponsor" in Pakistan on three of my visits during the '80s was a Bhutto family ally, though he was of Punjabi origin. His wife was connected to a powerful political family and between them had political connections in Punjab, Karachi, and the NW Frontier Province. Pakistan is an absurdly complex mixture of ethnic linguistic religious complexities far more tangled and troublesome than the comparatively placid USA. My sponsor told me that Benazir's mother was an Iranian beauty---so Ms. Bhutto is at least bi-national in her personal heritage.

Her father was executed by General Zia, who was in turn was killed along with my friend Ambassador Arnie Raphel in a tragic assassination when the plane stopped in Multan to pick up crates of mangoes, the best in the world come from Multan, one of which apparently held a bomb which exploded after takeoff, killing all aboard. Multan is in Sind, Bhutto's home province, so the mango-bomb might have been simple vengeance for Zia's relentless pursuit of Benazir's father. Her two brothers also died in suspicious circumstances lending to theories of political assassination. One story I heard even speculated that it was fratricide, with one brother killing the other over a political/monetary squabble. Pakistan is non-stop soap opera.

My sponsor got me a meeting with the Deputy Head of ISI, the shadowy intelligence organization suspected of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan before the US invaded after 911. There are even rumors that ISI kept Osama's hidden lair in NW Pakistan from US retaliation by feeding the CIA bogus information. The Deputy insisted the ISI was no more than an FBI rather than the international CIA.

One evening at a diplomatic function in Islamabad, the Soviet Ambassador invited me back to his residence for more drinks and conversation. I have no clear recollection of the subject matter, but I'm sure we may have touched on the Soviet's incursion into Afghanistan, in a friendly way. I think I did tell him about Dan Rather's phony "sneak" into A-gan when Dan actually hired a Paki son-et-lumiere outfit from a movie studio to do special effects and shot the breathless commentary right outside Peshawar a hundred miles from Afghanistan. Phoney Dan had a lot of tricks up his sleeve, said the CBS stringer who originally told me the story. But I digress....

Bhutto and Musharraf are seasoned veterans at manipulation and deception, but need each other for the time being. My guess is that Washington may soon figure out that Musharraf needs DC more than vice-versa, and that Bhutto might eventually become the de facto numero uno rather than Perez. Then he may go back to employing the Army as the de facto SCOTUS of Pakistan.

Besides the best fish and best mangoes, Karachi has the worst Taliban-infested slums in the sub-continent. For Bhutto's motorcade to proceed through the teeming slums was tempting fate. For over 100 unfortunates, her choice was fatal.

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