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Bhutto's death helps further Al Qaeda's Pakistan agenda

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  • Beowulf
    from the December 31, 2007 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1231/p10s01-wosc.html Bhutto s death helps further Al Qaeda s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008
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      from the December 31, 2007 edition -
      http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1231/p10s01-wosc.html

      Bhutto's death helps further Al Qaeda's Pakistan agenda


      A string of attacks on many of the country's leaders indicates a potent new
      strand of militancy in Pakistan.

      By David Montero | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

      Lahore, Pakistan

      While much debate and speculation swirls around the circumstances of Benazir
      Bhutto's death last week, the consequences are clear. It has upended a
      fragile political process in a nation already coping with increasing
      instability and a rising terrorist threat.

      Pakistan and the US have blamed Al Qaeda or its affiliates in Pakistan for
      the murder, while some say that President Pervez Musharraf himself is to
      blame.

      But regardless, say many analysts, Ms. Bhutto's death is a victory for Osama
      bin Laden's network, which called the opposition figure a tool of US
      influence. And, they say, Al Qaeda stands to gain most from the spreading
      unrest in Pakistan.

      Only weeks ago, Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a message saying
      that Bhutto, and all those who participate in Pakistan's elections, would
      meet their end. An Al Qaeda-linked website later claimed responsibility for
      the killing.

      Pakistan officials say the culprits worked with local Taliban leader
      Baitullah Mehsud in the restive tribal area South Waziristan. Mr. Mehsud,
      like Mr. Zawahiri, had earlier vowed to assassinate Bhutto if she returned
      to Pakistan to run in elections. He has since denied involvement in the
      attack.

      Al Qaeda has several times targeted President Mushaaraf, as well, and in
      recent months has twice targeted the former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed
      Sherpao. But in all those cases, the assassination attempts failed.

      The day after Bhutto was killed, Asfandyar Amir Zeb was killed by a
      remote-controlled bomb in Swat, an area bordering Afghanistan where the
      Pakistani Army is battling militants. Mr. Zeb, a member of Mr. Musharraf's
      ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, was an outspoken critic of Islamic
      militancy.

      And on Sunday, two men blew themselves up outside the eastern Pakistan
      residence of Ijazul Haq, the former religious affairs minister and senior
      leader of the ruling party, killing only themselves.

      This string of attacks on many of the country's leaders indicates a new
      strand of operatives working in Pakistan - the very specter of extremism
      that Bhutto made a focus of her campaign.

      "[Al Qaeda] considered [Bhutto] an American asset. They would have targeted
      her after Pervez Musharraf, who has a lot of security. She was exposed,"
      says the retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, former secretary of security for
      the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the area where Al Qaeda is believed
      to have its base.

      Thursday's assassination also bore the hallmark of Al Qaeda's sophisticated
      and deadly style: multiple attacks from various sources coupled with a
      suicide bombing.

      US officials and Pakistani analysts have long been warning that Al Qaeda's
      strength has grown in Pakistan, nurtured by remote strongholds in the tribal
      belt and weak government counterterrorism policies. Once unknown in
      Pakistan, Al Qaeda-like suicide bombings are now a regular occurrence and
      have claimed as many as 600 lives in the last year alone.

      "[Al Qaeda] seems to have increased their focus on Pakistan. There's some
      shift in their policy," says Mr. Shah.

      Events in Pakistan would seem then to be playing out according to an Al
      Qaeda handbook. Elections, which it and other militant groups have
      vociferously opposed, now seem all but derailed. Widespread violence and
      rioting immediately following Bhutto's death have pushed Pakistan toward
      greater uncertainty.

      "These extremists, they are not popular. They're not coming through
      elections. They thrive when there is fear and chaos," says Ijaz Khattak, a
      political analyst at the University of Peshawar. "When there is disruption
      in society, extremists get more organized and they turn the situation to
      their advantage."

      Far from smoothing the way for Musharraf, the days ahead are likely to be
      among his darkest in office. Protesters have burned and ransacked offices of
      the ruling party throughout the country. Opposition parties, meanwhile, are
      planning nationwide protests and strikes.

      If Musharraf finds himself beleaguered once again, battling an opposition
      that sees his ouster as the crux of Pakistan's survival, it is Al Qaeda that
      may reap dividends. "Now, even the worst elections have become unthinkable.
      This chaos suits Al Qaeda . because it means that the state is nearing
      collapse," says Mr. Khattak.

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