The Benazir Bhutto dossier: ‘secret service was diverting US aid for fighting milita nts to rig the elections’ - Times Onlin e
January 1, 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
“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
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