According to latest reports, at least 132 persons -- 20 of them police officers deputed to protect former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto -- were killed in a suspected suicide attack on the convoy by which she was being taken from the Karachi airport to the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah on the night of October 18. The suicide attack or attacks were clearly aimed to kill her on arrival in Karachi to a triumphant welcome by her supporters, but she managed to escape.
Reliable sources say one or two suicide bombers were involved. The bullet-proof vehicle by which she was being taken by her supporters was protected by two cordons of security guards. The inner cordon consisted of security guards engaged by her Pakistan People's Party parliamentarians to protect her. Many of them were former policemen and ex-servicemen enjoying her and her party's confidence. The outer cordon consisted of officers of the Sindh police and plainclothes security officers of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, which is now headed by Brig Ejaz Shah, a former officer of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, who is a close personal friend of Gen Pervez Musharraf and Gen (retd) Mohammad Aziz, a Kashmiri officer belonging to the Sudan tribe who orchestrated the overthrow of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in October 1999.
Shah is also a close personal friend of many Punjabi leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid e Azam), which is opposed to Benazir's return.
According to these sources, the suicide bomber or bombers managed to penetrate the security cordon of the police and IB officers without being frisked, but could not penetrate the inner cordon of security guards of the PPP. When stopped, they blew themselves up at a distance from her vehicle. At the time of the explosion, she had gone inside the vehicle to rest for a while. This seems to have contributed to her miraculous escape. Had she been standing on top she might have been injured, if not killed.
There are many elements in Pakistan, and in Karachi itself, which are opposed to her and are determined to prevent her return to power. These include the various jihadi terrorist groups, Al Qaeda and its allies, those involved in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl and the supporters of Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian mafia leader who has been given shelter in Karachi by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. The anger against her is due to various reasons -- the fact that she is a woman, her close proximity to the US and her open statements supporting the US on various issues. They see her as the US cat's paw. It is difficult to say at present who might have been responsible for the attack on her.
Brig Ejaz Shah has been strongly criticised by Benazir and her supporters for the security failure and they have demanded his removal and arrest. When he was in the ISI, he used to be the handling officer of Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar, the amir of the Taliban. After Musharraf seized power in October 1999, he had Shah posted as the home secretary of Punjab. It was to him that Omar Sheikh, who orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, surrendered because Omar Sheikh knew him before and was confident that Ejaz Shah would see that he was not tortured.
After Pearl's murder, there were many allegations regarding Shah's role. Musharraf tried to protect him by sending him as the ambassador to Australia or Indonesia. Both the countries reportedly refused to accept him. Musharraf then made him the DG of IB and he saw to it that the death sentence against Omar Sheikh for his role in the Pearl case was not executed. The courts have been repeatedly postponing hearings on the appeal filed by Omar Sheikh against the death sentence.
Ejaz Shah played an active role in the campaign to discredit Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Caudhury of the Pakistan Supreme Court after he started calling for the files of a large number of missing persons who were taken into custody by the police and the intelligence agencies. Reliable sources in Pakistan reported that Gen Pervez Kiani, who was the DG of ISI at the time of the suspension of the Chief Justice, was against the suspension but Musharraf suspended him on the advice of Ejaz Shah and Maj Gen Nadim Taj, who was at that time head of the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence. Maj Gen Taj has since been promoted as Lt Gen and has succeeded Kiyani as the DG of ISI.
While the ISI under Kiyani refused to file any affidavit against the suspended Chief Justice before the court, the IB and the DGMI filed affidavits giving details of all the information which their organisations had indicating the alleged unsuitability of the Chief Justice to head the Supreme Court.
Despite the political embarrassment caused by the case, which ended in a fiasco, Ejaz Shah continues to enjoy Musharraf's total confidence.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)