Wednesday, January 2, 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.

1 comment:

nazia said...

These charges are baseless as everybody knows that mussarf is in desperate need of rigging the forth coming elections for taking control of future parliment.If his opposition come at both houses then who would give him vote of confidence for his wrong doings as president.At this moment looking to US for justice is a big joke of year.US support mussarf that's why he is on the top seat and doing all malpractices.Whole country is burning since people have started showing resentment against army mafia and US.Now we have no doubt in our mind that most of so called terrorists activities are planned by our IB and ISI .They are trying to teach lessons to bloody civilians to respect the army by force as their boss US is imposing democracy on poor nation by sending them arms, army and F16s.