Sunday, 22 May 2011

Wikileaks: US Ignored Benazirs Security Fears


Did America fail to do enough to help protect Benazir Bhutto? Just two months before her assassination and only days after she had returned from an 8-year exile to contest the Pakistan elections, Bhutto had asked the United States to evaluate her security and recommend additional resources for maximum safety. The US Embassy in Pakistan strongly recommended not doing this.

Two cables sent from the embassy to Washington, detail Bhutto's meeting with then US Ambassador Anne Patterson at the former's home in Karachi. These cables, revealed by WikiLeaks, focus on Bhutto's security fears.

The cable reads, "Bhutto requested, in writing, that USG (United States Government) 'undertake an evaluation of existing executive security procedures and recommendation of additional resources necessary for maximum safety.' Ambassador recommends that we meet with members of her staff and provide list of security contractors who could provide this assessment."

Patterson said she "strongly recommended" against providing such an evaluation as she was certain there would performance gaps revealed that would not meet American standards of training and equipment.

The Ambassador also said the Pakistan government was responsible for Bhutto's security. "The USG should either undertake full responsibility for Bhutto's personal security or not. We also believe it highly unlikely that the PPP (Benazir's party) would follow professional recommendations not to hold rallies in large crowds. Protection of prime ministerial candidates is the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan."

Benazir seemed to have made the written request based on her having heard that the US government had provided such assessments in the past. Ambassador Patterson said the US had provided security for former President Aristide of Haiti and President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, "but, in these situations, the security was basically turned over to American contractors supervised by official U.S. personnel. The Ambassador doubted it would be consistent with a political campaign."

The security fears that Benazir voiced that day stemmed largely from a bomb attack on her homecoming rally in Karachi on October 19, 2007. She had just landed and left the airport when there were bomb blasts. Benazir escaped but over a 130 people were killed and hundreds injured. The US Ambassador noted in another cable sent a couple of days after the first that Benazir was dissatisfied about the way the Pakistan government was investigating the bombing.

She told the US officials that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) had complained about the "high level of security" provided her. Bhutto said the government should relax the law to allow her own guards, to be armed.

On December 27, 2007, Bhutto's security fears were proved not unfounded. In the most violent way possible. She was killed while leaving a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. Bhutto was in her bulletproof vehicle and stood up to wave at the people gathered through the sunroof. A gunman fired at her and simultaneously, there were explosions. Bhutto was taken to hospital where she died.