The most intriguing question that arises from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is who plotted and carried out the killing.
After the failed assassination attempt in Karachi, observers in Pakistan theorized extreme Muslim groups who were outlawed by President Pervez Musharraf, or Al-Qaida elements aligned with these groups, were responsible.
From these groups’ point of view, Bhutto and her party are an enemy, perhaps an even more dangerous enemy than Musharraf. Yet, in Pakistan, considered one of the world’s most fertile breeding grounds for conspiracy theories, many more possible suspects will be bandied about. Indeed, the blame can be laid at the feet of any of a large number of elements.
The most astounding aspect of Thursday’s events is the negligence displayed by Bhutto’s security detail. According to reports, the assassin managed to approach Bhutto and position himself within a short distance of her, before proceeding to shoot her and detonate the explosives with which he was strapped. Not only did the assassin want to cause maximum casualties, but he also hoped that authorities would later be unable to identify him and thus ascertain which organization he was working for.
What makes the security failure all the more startling is the fact that it comes just weeks after the first assassination attempt following Bhutto’s return to Pakistan from a lengthy political exile.
In the attempt, suicide bombers killed 150 people, although Bhutto escaped unharmed. Under these circumstances, it was chiefly incumbent on her security guards to do all in their power to prevent direct access to her, even during the course of an election campaign in which a candidate seeks to come into contact with the public.
One can make the claim – and some already have – that foreign agents of countries in conflict with Pakistan (re: India) orchestrated the assassination so as to create chaos and to create an image of a country that is unstable and unreliable.
Others will point the finger at Musharraf and his supporters, who viewed Bhutto as a rival who was likely to win next month’s elections.
The likelihood of both claims is extremely low, especially considering the apparent deal in principle struck between Musharraf and Bhutto whereby both would enter a power-sharing arrangement and form a joint coalition.
Another possible perpetrator is former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a bitter political rival of Bhutto who once ordered her husband arrested on corruption charges.