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Former PM Bhutto Seeks Full Inquiry Into Deadly Pakistan Attack

October 19, 2007 at 6:05 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Our coverage of the Pakistan story begins with this report from Karachi. The correspondent is Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News. A warning: This story contains some graphic images.

JONATHAN RUGMAN, ITV News Correspondent: Carnage after midnight, the second of two explosions transforming Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming from carnival to catastrophe. More than 130 dead; Karachi’s hospital in chaos, full to overflowing.

Police say they’ve found the head of one suspected suicide bomber who’d come within just a few feet of Mrs. Bhutto and her bus, which was packed with almost her entire party’s leadership.

Benazir Bhutto was evacuated unharmed, but by this morning, the scene of last night’s assassination attempt was still littered with human remains. Fifty of her own guards among the dead. This armored compartment where she was working on a speech may have saved her life.

At tonight’s chaotic press conference, she said that only three days ago she’d sent President Musharraf the phone numbers of former security officials planning to kill her, that a foreign government had warned her of four separate plots, including the Taliban and al-Qaida, though rogue elements within the state may have deliberately plunged her convoy into darkness.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, Former Pakistani Prime Minister: While I am not blaming the government for the suicide attacks on me, and while I’m not blaming the government for the assassination attacks on me at this stage, nonetheless, we need to have an inquiry as to why the streetlights had been shut, that entire — for hours, the streetlights were shut. I’ve heard the next attack is going to be by placing certain people in the police department near my house in Klipten, and near my house in Larkana, so that there can be an attack on my house and an attack on me.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: President Musharraf today sent her his condolences, and she’s not blaming him for what happened. But amid these funeral scenes, who knows whether their joint plan for free elections in January, making her prime minister again, can now go ahead? Though as she told me of her determination to carry on, Mrs. Bhutto’s composure was astonishing.

It was your decision to come back. The president warned you not to come back. Perhaps it was naive?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, I know that some people will think it was naive. But I think it was the right decision. Because, as I said, if you fight for something you believe in, a cause you believe in, you have to be ready to pay the price.

And the cause I believe in is to save Pakistan by saving democracy and involving the people of Pakistan in the affairs of their nation. If I had not gone down, come back, I think that would have been the wrong decision.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Those who died in her place are filling hospital corridors here, where relatives search for those they’ve lost. This morgue is littered with soiled sheets, the floors caked in blood. So many thousands gathering around their returning heroine, home from exile, that any attack was bound to take a heavy toll.

“I’m glad she is here,” said this man. “She cares for the poor. The government should have protected her.” And then he takes his 35-year-old son, who’d simply been selling ice when Mrs. Bhutto passed by, away to an ambulance, just one of scores and scores heading for burial today.

Investigating the attack

JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on the latest developments in Pakistan, we go to Griff Witte, Washington Post Pakistan bureau chief, and Steve Coll, New Yorker magazine journalist and author. He's also president of the New America Foundation.

Welcome, both Griff and Steve.

Griff, what is the latest on the investigation? What does the government -- how much evidence, forensic and otherwise, do they really have to go on in trying to determine who did this?

GRIFF WITTE, Washington Post Pakistan Bureau Chief: Well, President Musharraf has ordered an inquiry that will last 48 hours. He has said that he wants within the next two days an answer on his desk as far as who has done this.

But it will be difficult. Benazir Bhutto is someone who has acquired a lot of enemies in this country. There are a host of extremist groups that wanted to hurt her, wanted to kill her. And it's going to be very difficult for the government to untangle exactly who it was who might have carried out this attack.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Steve, I know you were both at this press conference today. And she pointed the finger pretty directly at some specific groups, did she not, Steve?

STEVE COLL, Staff Writer, The New Yorker: She named four overlapping networks, but didn't really name groups, per se. But she was pointing to networks of Islamist militants, some operating on Pakistani soil for many years, others, foreigners who have come in as refugees from Afghanistan after 9/11. And she also implicated rogue elements of the Pakistani security services, services that have collaborated with some of these groups over the course of two decades.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Griff, she also made much of the fact that -- in connection with that, she made much of the fact that the streetlights went out as darkness fell. Now, is that that suspicious in Karachi, or are there, in fact, a lot of blackouts?

GRIFF WITTE: There are blackouts, but it was quite suspicious. There was electricity in the homes that were along the route, and it was very interesting. I was in the convoy at dusk. And, you know, during the daylight hours, it was quite easy to see who was around you. It was quite easy to see that you were surrounded by party workers and you were surrounded by politicians.

As soon as night fell, the route for the procession went completely dark, and it became impossible to know who was around you. And Benazir Bhutto said yesterday that the party workers, that her top leadership noticed right away that this was going to be a problem, that it was going to be a major issue for her security, and that they tried to get in touch with government officials, and that they were unable to get the government officials to turn the lights back on.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Steve, go back to the point you were raising about people in the government. She also gave an interview that appeared today in Paris Match. What is her basic accusation about who it is still in government who might have been behind this?

STEVE COLL: Well, there are two levels to it. First, she seems to have come into possession of some specific information passed to her by a friendly government that she has not named about several former security officials who were actively plotting to kill her or harm her upon her return. And she says, quite remarkably, that she wrote a letter to President Musharraf about two days or three days before her return in which she named these officials and provided details about them.

At the press conference today, she was asked to identify them, and she said she wouldn't do so as long as she was alive. In effect, she had written this letter as a kind of last will and testament about her suspicions.

More broadly, she is observing something that many students of Pakistan could easily observe, which is that the country's history during the last 20 years is marked by violent conspiracies that have occasionally involved rogue or directed elements of the police, sometimes the intelligence services, and less often the army, in violent conspiracies involving Pakistani politics.

And she has been involved on the receiving end of those conspiracies in the past, and so she's quick to suspect that they're present in this case, this week.

Taliban, al-Qaida ties to Pakistan

MARGARET WARNER: But, Griff, after 9/11, Musharraf vowed to root out Taliban sympathetic and Islamist sympathizers in the security services of Pakistan. To what degree had he succeeded? To what degree had he persisted and succeeded in that?

GRIFF WITTE: Well, certainly, it depends very much on who you ask. I think that there are -- certainly President Musharraf would say that he has cleaned house, that he now has an army that is completely loyal to the Pakistani state, and that it has no sympathies with the Taliban, with al-Qaida.

But I think that, on the ground, there's probably a much different circumstance in some instances. You have a situation in western, northwestern Pakistan where the government is fighting a very unpopular war against the Taliban, against al-Qaida. And there are people on the ground there who are technically loyal to the government, but in reality their sympathies might lean more heavily toward the insurgents.

MARGARET WARNER: And so, Steve, going to the election now, the upcoming parliamentary election still scheduled for January, is there any talk that this may change the election schedule in any way?

STEVE COLL: Well, there's a lot of speculation about what the impact will be on the election and whether this will affect the schedule, whether it will affect the campaigning, whether it will affect the thinking on the supreme court as it makes a series of important decisions about the legitimacy of President Musharraf's recent re-election. So the entire campaign has been thrown into some question.

But Benazir Bhutto today seemed to be on a mission to make clear that she intended to go ahead as planned, that she intended to seek the prime ministership and to campaign vigorously for the values that she trumpeted upon her return.

And I think the one observation that many people in Karachi were making today listening to her is that the era of PPP campaign, which is such a vivid part of Pakistani history, these mass rallies held in this province and in the heartland of the Punjab, may not be as viable in this security environment as they were when she left for exile about nine years ago.

So that's a challenge that her party faces. That was their strength in campaigning before, and how they can carry it on in this security environment is a question they now face.

MARGARET WARNER: Griff, what has been the reaction of just ordinary Pakistanis to this? What's the climate there like today? What are people saying?

GRIFF WITTE: Well, I think people are actually quite shocked by this, not so much shocked that there was an incident, but the scale of the deaths. The scale of the destruction is surprising people, even at a time when Pakistanis, unfortunately, are becoming somewhat immune to reaction to these kinds of attacks, because they are happening with greater frequency.

This was an attack, certainly, that was of a much larger scale than previous attacks. And the fact that the attackers were able to get so close to Benazir Bhutto's vehicle, I think, surprised a lot of people and, quite frankly, it's really saddened people.

Karachi was completely shut down today. The stores were all closed. Shops were shuddered. And I think that people were still very much in a state of mourning and a state of shock over what has happened.

Bhutto and Musharraf's fragile deal

MARGARET WARNER: And, Steve, I assume you've been talking to people both in the Bhutto and in the Musharraf government. What do they think this is going to do to this sort of uneasy relationship already between Bhutto and Musharraf, where they've made this sort of agreement for each of them to go forward on their own tracks, but clearly are critical of one another at the same time?

STEVE COLL: That's right. This is an accord that has always been fragile. It was long in the making. It was difficult in negotiations, and it was fragile before her arrival.

The events of last night complicated it immeasurably, because they exacerbate the greatest problem in this agreement, which is mistrust between the two leaders who are responsible for carrying it out.

Benazir Bhutto made clear today that she is not pointing the finger at President Musharraf directly, but she did point the finger at security services under his command. He, in turn, suspects that she is not a sincere partner, that she's in it for herself, and he undoubtedly is now going to worry about how to manage the pressure that she is putting upon him by demanding results in this investigation and demanding that heads roll and so forth.

So this problem of building trust, which looked significant before these events, now looks even more daunting.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, fascinating times ahead. Steve Coll of the New Yorker and Griff Witte of the Washington Post, thank you both.