In Pakistan, Bhutto's return stirring threats and allegations

The former prime minister has insinuated strongly that elements within the administration of President Pervez Musharraf were involved in last Thursday's attack.

By , Staff writer

The detective leading an investigation into a suicide attack in Karachi that killed 136 people amid the throngs welcoming back former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto from exile resigned from the case on Wednesday after Ms. Bhutto complained about his qualifications to lead the case.

The attack last Thursday, and the political recriminations that have swirled since, have raised concerns about the country's upcoming elections, the Associated Press reports.

The government has promised a thorough investigation of the attack, which has raised doubts about Pakistan's stability as it heads toward crucial elections.

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Bhutto has accused elements in the government and security services of complicity in the explosions and called for international experts to help in the investigation. Government officials insist Pakistani authorities can handle the investigation on their own.

[Sindh Province Home Secretary Ghulam] Mohtarem said the provincial government had no doubt about [the investigators] competency and professionalism, but said he had decided to withdraw to protect the investigation from accusations of bias.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that Bhutto has received death threats from Al Qaeda-aligned militants since her return and that the government has restricted her ability to leave the country, raising anger within her Pakistan People's Party.

In an op-ed in Dawn, Mahir Ali argues that the deal that brought Bhutto home from exile with President Pervez Musharraf, the general who now runs the country, is unlikely to weaken the Islamist militants that are believed to have carried out the attack. The piece also questions Bhutto’s own ability to bring about reform, comparing her negotiations with Mr. Musharraf to a similar compromise she made with strongman military rulers in the past.

Arguably the most important question before the country today is how the national agenda can be wrested back from the terrorists. It is hard to see how a tawdry cohabitation deal between Bhutto and Gen Pervez Musharraf can possibly serve as a suitable answer. Cooperation between all forces that are sincere in their desire to roll back obscurantist trends and stave off the terrorist threat is a sine qua non of progress, but it can only succeed in a truly democratic context. And that's something that does not, for the time being, appear to be on anyone's agenda.

But it's equally pertinent to remember that after the PPP emerged as the largest single party in the 1988 elections — despite the best efforts of Inter-Services Intelligence to thwart Bhutto's party — the assumption of power entailed a compromise with the military-bureaucratic establishment whereby Ghulam Ishaq Khan retained his presidential post as Zia's automatic successor and Sahibzada Yaqub Khan remained the foreign minister.

A similar arrangement is evidently being contemplated for 2008, with the army effectively retaining control not only of the presidency, but also of security and foreign affairs. So much for democracy.

The Los Angeles Timessharpening her rhetoric

Bhutto said at a news conference hours after the attack that she believed Islamic militants had carried out the suicide bombing, with the possible complicity of some former and present officials in the government of President Musharraf.

The government has vehemently denied any responsibility and said everything possible was done to protect Bhutto.

The former prime minister sharpened her rhetoric Sunday, however, decrying "closet supporters of militants and Al Qaeda . . . determined to stop the restoration of democracy because they see it as a threat to the structure of militancy they have put into place."

The Guardian newspaper of Britain reports that Bhutto says her opponents are determined to prevent political change in the country.

She added that she believed her opponents were "petrified that the Pakistan People's party will return [to power] and that democracy will return".

Ms Bhutto's two governments, between 1988 and 1996, were toppled amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

She has returned to contest parliamentary elections due to take place in January, after months of power-sharing talks with the president, General Pervez Musharraf, that could see them forming an alliance in the next government.

However, any potential cooperation appears to have been strained by a war of words over who was responsible for Thursday's attack.

Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Democrat, said the US should be worried about events in Pakistan, and that militants operating out of that country are also making the situation in Afghanistan worse. Mr. Hoekstra added that, with regard to terrorism, Musharraf "is doing everything that he can, but there are extreme limitations on that from the internal politics and the internal dynamics in Pakistan."

HOEKSTRA: Oh, I think we should be very worried about what's happening in Pakistan. Not that it means that it's on a path to an imminent collapse, but Pakistan is critical in us being successful in taking out and defeating radical Islamists and al Qaeda.

You know, the tribal areas are just adjacent to Afghanistan. I was there three weeks ago. You know, there (is a) continuing presence of al Qaeda in these ungoverned areas. It's making it more -- making it less stable in Afghanistan. You know, the plots that we have seen in the U.K., their roots come out of these tribal areas. It is the planning and the training ground for radical jihadists in their worldwide threat to the United States.

Meanwhile, Agence France Presse reports that the government has dispatched more troops to the northwest, near the border with Afghanistan, where Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked violence have been on the rise.

Paramilitary troops erected barricades and checkposts in the scenic Swat valley, where a pro-Taliban militant group has been blamed for a series of recent bloody attacks on police and government leaders, the official said.

"We have deployed a little over 2,000 troops to assist police and civil administration in the district," top military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.

Around 90,000 Pakistani troops are deployed in the lawless tribal zones where they have been waging battle against Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked extremists.

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