Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Benazir Bhutto dossier: ‘secret service was diverting US aid for fighting militants to rig the elections’

Jeremy Page in Naudero

On the day she was assassinated, Benazir Bhutto was due to meet two senior American politicians to show them a confidential report alleging that Pakistan’s intelligence service was using US money to rig parliamentary elections, officials in her party said yesterday.

The report was compiled by the former Prime Minister’s own contacts within the security services and alleged that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency was running the election operation from a safe house in the capital, Islamabad, they said. The operation’s aim was to undermine Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and to ensure victory for the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party, which supports President Musharraf, in the elections scheduled for January 8.

Patrick Kennedy, a Democratic congressman for Rhode Island, and Arlen Specter, a Republican member of the Senate sub-committe on foreign operations, have confirmed that they were planning to have dinner with Ms Bhutto on Thursday evening but were not available for comment yesterday.

Sarfraz Ali Lashari, a senior PPP official who works in its election monitoring cell, told The Times that he had helped to compile a 200-page report on the Government’s efforts to rig the poll, which Ms Bhutto planned to give to the Americans and to the press the day she was killed.

“But there is another report relating to the ISI and she was going to discuss it with them,” said Mr Lashari, an envi-ronmental economist who taught at Cranfield University for several years.

The second report, which Ms Bhutto did not plan to release to the media, alleged that the ISI was using some of the $10 billion (£5 billion) in US military aid that Pakistan has received since 2001 to run a covert election operation from a safe house in G5, a central district of Islamabad, he said.

“The report was done by some people who we’ve got in the services. They directly dealt with Benazir Bhutto,” he continued, adding that Ms Bhutto was planning to share the contents of the report with the British Ambassador as well as the US lawmakers.

Asif Ali Zardari, Ms Bhutto’s widower and the new co-chairman of the PPP, confirmed the existence of the report, its basic contents and Ms Bhutto’s plans to meet the US lawmakers last Thursday. Asked if such a report was in his possession, he said: “Something to that effect.” Asked if Ms Bhutto was planning to share its contents with the American legislators, he said: “I am not in a position to make an answer to that.” Asked if the report contained evidence that the ISI was using US funds to rig the elections, he said: “Possibly so.” He declined to give further details, but said the confidential report could have been one of several motives for killing Ms Bhutto, who died after a suicide-bomb and gun attack on an election rally near Islamabad. “It was a general combination of all of these things. The fact that she’s on the ground exposing everybody, I guess, would have been one reason. There are many views and many reasons one can think of for her assassination.”

The allegation is likely to fuel the already intense speculation surrounding the death, which triggered nationwide riots and raised fears that President Musharraf could reimpose emergency rule and postpone the elections.

Electoral fraud is nothing new in Pakistan, which has been led by military rulers for more than half of its 60-year history, and whose politics is dominated by feudal and tribal loyalties. In 1996 a former army chief called Mirza Aslam Baig alleged in court that he had been aware of a secret ISI political cell that distributed funds to antiPPP candidates in the run-up to the 1990-1991 elections.

Ms Bhutto had often accused President Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, of rigging elections and there have been reports that foreign financial aid to Pakistan’s Central Election Commission was being used to fix the result of next month’s poll.

However, the report that Ms Bhutto allegedly planned to share with the US politicians made the more serious allegation that the ISI was directly involved in rigging the coming parliamentary elections – and was using American money to do it. The United States has given Pakistan at least $10 billion in military aid since President Musharraf agreed to back the War on Terror after the September 11 attacks.

The money was supposed to be used to help Pakistan’s armed forces to fight al-Qaeda and Taleban militants sheltering in northwestern tribal areas near the porous border with Afghan-istan. But there has been almost no accounting for the funds, most of which have been transferred in cash directly to the Defence Ministry, and critics of President Musharraf say that much has been diverted towards other aims, such as upgrading forces on the border with India, or into private pockets.

This month the US Congress ordered the Government to withhold a portion of military aid to Pakistan until President Musharraf demonstrated progress in the campaign against the militants and in a transition towards civilian, democratic rule.

Mr Lashari, the PPP official, said that Ms Bhutto wanted to share the report with them because she did not entirely trust the US Government, which still regards President Musharraf as a key ally in the War on Terror. “The idea was to discuss it with all the international stakeholders, mainly including Britain and the United States, but we didn’t want to share it with anyone who could use it against us,” he said.

“It would be unwise to do anything that would annoy Musharraf. and the international stakeholders. Everything could collapse if the Army comes to know that there is something substantial against them. It’s dangerous to name people in Pakistan.” Pakistani media reports have alleged the existence of an ISI safe house used to rig the elections and identified Ijaz Hussain Shah, a retired general who heads the civilian Intelligence Bureau, as one of those involved.

Mr Lashari also said that Ms Bhutto was planning to show the report with the British Ambassador, Robert Brin-kley. A spokesman for the British Embassy denied any knowledge of the report. The ISI does not have a spokes-person, but a government official dismissed the allegations as baseless.


carey said...

Good reporting, Kirk. There is also a report by Amy Goodman in Truthdig this morning that Bhutto would have thrown in her towel with Musharaff if the deal was right. I'll go get it.

This whole thing has confused me to no end.


carey said...

Musharaff Still Stands

Gerald said...

If you love your country, you must read this article.

Matt Howard, Patriotic American

Gerald said...

Who do we vote for this time around?

Gerald said...

Recession Coming

Gerald said...

The Hitler Bush Legacy (Take One)

Gerald said...

The Bush Legacy

As a people, we Americans have not faintly come to grips with how centrally the Bush administration has planted certain practices in our midst - at the very heart of governmental practice, of the news, of everyday life. Many of these practices were not in themselves creations of this administration. For instance, the practice of kidnapping abroad - "rendition" - began at least in the Clinton era, if not earlier. Waterboarding, a medieval torture, was first practiced by American troops in the Philippine insurrection at the dawn of the previous century. (It was then known as "the water cure.")

Torture of various sorts was widely used in CIA interrogation centers in Vietnam in the 1960s. Back in that era, the CIA also ran its own airline, Air America, rather than just leasing planes from various corporate entities through front businesses. Abu Ghraib-style torture and abuse, pioneered by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s, was taught and used by American military, CIA, and police officials in Latin America from the 1960s into the 1980s. If you doubt any of this, just check out Alfred McCoy's still shocking book, A Question of Torture. Even offshore secret CIA prisons aren't a unique creation of the Bush administration. According to Tim Weiner in his new history of the Central Intelligence Agency, Legacy of Ashes, in the 1950s the Agency had three of them - in Japan, Germany, and the Panama Canal Zone - where they brought double agents of questionable loyalty for "secret experiments" in harsh interrogation, "using techniques on the edge of torture, drug-induced mind control, and brainwashing."

And yet, don't for a second think that nothing has changed. Part of the Bush legacy lies in a new ethos in this country. In my childhood in the 1950s, for example, we knew just who the torturers were. We saw them in the movies. They were the sadistic Japanese in their prison camps, the Gestapo in their prisons, and the Soviet Secret police, the KGB, in their gulags (even if that name hadn't yet entered our world). As the President now says at every opportunity, and as we then knew, Americans did not torture.

Today, and it's a measure of our changing American world, a child turning on the TV serial "24" or heading for the nearest hot, new action flick at the local multiplex knows that Americans do torture and that torture, once the cultural province of our most evil enemies, is now a practice that is 100% all-American and perfectly justifiable (normally by the ticking-bomb scenario). And few even blink. In lockdown America, it computes. The snarl at the border fits well enough with what our Vice President has termed a "no-brainer," a "dunk in the water" in the torture chamber. There is no deniability left in the movies - and little enough of it in real life.

American presidents of the Vietnam and Latin American war years operated in a realm of deniability when it came to torture and other such practices. No American could then have imagined a Vice President heading for Capitol Hill to lobby openly for a torture bill or a President publicly threatening to veto congressional legislation banning torture techniques. Call it the end of an era of American hypocrisy, if you will, but the Bush legacy will be, in part, simply the routinization of the practice of torture, abuse, kidnapping, and illegal imprisonment.

George W. Bush didn't invent the world he inhabits. He, his top officials, and all their lawyers who wrote those bizarre "torture memos" that will be hallmarks of his era chose from existing strains of thought, from urges and tendencies already in American culture. But their record on this has, nonetheless, been remarkable. In just about every case, they chose to bring out the worst in us; in just about every case, they took us on as direct a journey as possible to the dark side.

It's not necessary to romanticize the American past in any way to consider the legacy of these last years grim indeed. Let no one tell you that the institution of a global network of secret prisons and borrowed torture chambers, along with those "enhanced interrogation techniques," was primarily done for information or even security. The urge to resort to such tactics is invariably more primal than that.

Words matter more than one would think. In the Bush era, certain words have simply been sidelined. Sovereignty, for instance. If, in principle, you can kidnap anyone, anywhere, and transport that person into a ghost existence anywhere else, then national sovereignty essentially no longer has significance. This is one meaning of "globalization" in the twenty-first century. On Planet Bush, only one nation remains "sovereign," and that's the United States of America.

If you want to test this proposition, just take any case mentioned above, from Erla Ósk's landing in New York on, and try to reverse it. Make an American the central victim and another country of your choice the perpetrator and imagine the reaction of the Bush administration, no less the American media and the public (no matter what Gen. Hartmann may be unwilling to say about the waterboarding of an American serviceman).

Or consider another word that once had great resonance in American culture, not to speak of its legal system: innocence. Americans prided themselves on their "innocence" - even when mocked as "innocents abroad" - and took pride as well in a system based on the phrase, "innocent until proven guilty."

Despite their repeated, thoroughly worn denials about torture, the top officials of this administration remade themselves, in the wake of the attacks of 9/11, as a Torture, Inc. And their actions since then have gone a long way toward turning us, by association and tacit acquiescence, into a nation of torturers, willing to accept, in case after case, that a "war" against "terror" supposed to last for generations justifies just about any act imaginable, including the continued mistreatment and incarceration of people who remain somehow guilty even, in certain cases, after being proven innocent.

This is the American welcome wagon of the twenty-first century. If you really want to catch the spirit of the Bush legacy one year early, try to imagine the poem an Emma Lazarus of this moment might write, something appropriate for a gigantic statue in New York harbor of a guard from Mohamed Bashmilah's living nightmare - dressed all in black, a black mask covering his head and neck, tinted yellow plastic over the eyes, a man, hands sheathed in rubber gloves, holding up not a torch but a video camera and dragging chains.

Adolph H. Bush said...

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