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Questions of Blame


Already a narrative is forming that blames the Musharraf regime directly or indirectly for Benazir’s murder. Her rival Nawaz Sharif — the man who has arguably gained the most from her death — has openly accused Musharraf of being behind the assassination.

In Pakistan the blame-Musharraf line has somehow merged with the anti-Americanism endemic to that society at every level, so that conspiracy theorists are trying to portray the murder as a U.S. plot — even though she was almost certainly murdered partly because she had (apparently) become as pro-U.S. and anti-militant as Musharraf himself.

In the West, the blame — Musharraf narrative revolves around the notion that Musharraf deliberately deprived Benazir of adequate security. Contrary to reports by CNN and others concerning an e-mail Bhutto sent in October, the reality is rather more complicated.

First of all, contrary to CNN analyst and Bhutto lobbyist Mark Seigel, Benazir did have her own private security guards, arranged by her husband in Dubai. Indeed it may have been their cordon who saved her life in the Karachi bomb attack in October. (See these analyses by former Indian intelligence officer B.Raman here and here.) Secondly, even if it’s true that Musharraf refused to allow her electronic bomb jammers or vehicles with tinted windows, as CNN seems to claim, neither of these protections would have protected her from yesterday’s attack.

Though it hasn’t been reported in the U.S., Benazir recently eschewed the security cover offered by the Pakistani government — possibly a sensible move given the suspicious failure of the police cordon on the day of the Karachi blast in October. However she apparently failed to make up for its absence by boosting her own security detail. This was either because of a false sense of invulnerability — Musharraf himself once said that after surviving your first assassination attempt you feel invincible — or because getting out among the voters seemed a more important priority. (Whatever her faults she was a person of tremendous physical courage as shown by her campaign stops last month in North West Frontier Province.)

Moreover, even without government assistance Benazir could afford to hire the best private ex-special forces bodyguards from U.S. and U.K. agencies or to have local bodyguards trained by the likes of Centurion, Pilgrims, or MPRI. Apparently they chose not to, though there are reports here in India that the Musharraf government forbade her to employ foreign personal security detail. If they are true, Musharraf will have a hard time defending himself against charges that he was in some way complicit with her assassination, especially given the CNN e-mail.

In the meantime, it seems that while Benazir took her courage too far in the pursuit of her political dream, the only parties we should blame for her death are the terrorists who actually killed.