Bhutto had 'proof' of plan to rig election

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The Independent Online

On the day she was assassinated, Benazir Bhutto had planned to reveal what she claimed was damning evidence that revealed the involvement of a shadowy Pakistani intelligence agency in a plan to rig the country's upcoming elections.

Colleagues of Ms Bhutto have revealed she was due to meet visiting US politicians to hand over a report compiled by her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) into an operation it says was being run by the ISI military intelligence agency to fix the polls in the favour of President Pervez Musharraf. Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of the PPP election monitoring cell, said the report was "very sensitive" and the party wanted to initially share it with trusted US politicians rather than the government of George Bush, which has backed Mr Musharraf.

The revelation came as the government prepared to postpone the upcoming election, despite demands from the opposition parties that they go ahead as scheduled on 8 January. A spokesman for the Election Commission said it had recommended an unspecified postponement and the government is due to announce a final decision later today.

The report compiled by the PPP apparently includes information on an alleged "safehouse" being run by the ISI in a neighbourhood of Islamabad called G-5, from which the rigging operation was run. "It was compiled from sources within the [intelligence] services who were working directly with Benazir Bhutto," said Mr Lashari.

The report names a recently retired ISI officer who has allegedly been running the rigging unit and claims he worked in tandem with another named senior intelligence officer. It also claims that US aid funds were being used for the projects.

At the heart of the scheme, the report says, was a project in which ballot papers stamped in favour of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), which supports Mr Musharraf were to be produced by the intelligence agencies in about 100 constituencies. Mr Lashari said the effort was directed at constituencies where the result was likely to be decided by a small margin, so it would not be obvious. "They diverted money from aid activities. We had evidence of where they were spending the money," he added.

The PPP has not claimed that Ms Bhutto was killed in order to stop her from revealing the information the party had gathered. However, last Thursday the day that she was killed in Rawalpindi Ms Bhutto was due to meet Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, and the Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy. It is unclear whether the two US lawmakers had any indication that they were to be provided with the report.

After Ms Bhutto's death, Mr Specter said: "Our foreign policy had relied on her presence as a stabilising force. I knew her personally... She was, as you know, glamorous, beautiful, smart. Her loss is a setback. But you have to face what is. And now, without her, we have to regroup."

Last night, an ISI spokesman could not be reached for comment. However, a source within the agency dismissed the allegations as "a lot of talk but not much substance".

It is certain, however, that the allegations of vote manipulation will trigger fresh controversy in Pakistan. Likewise, if the government does decide to postpone the election, there will be many who will believe it is acting purely to try to gain an advantage from the delay. "No one among us wants elections to go beyond 8 January," said Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), as he again called on Mr Musharraf to step down. "He is a one-man calamity. He is responsible for all the trouble in Pakistan. The country is burning."

Meanwhile, controversy continued to rage over the precise cause of Ms Bhutto's death. Having initially said she was killed by a gunman, the government has since claimed Ms Bhutto died after striking her head on a lever that controlled the sunroof of her bullet-proof car. The claim drew accusations of a cover-up from members of her party who said the government was seeking to avoid criticism for not having provided adequate security.

Yesterday a member of the board of the hospital where Ms Bhutto was rushed last Thursday, said doctors had been prevented from carrying out a post-mortem examination by the local police chief. Athar Minallah, a leading lawyer, released medical notes from the hospital which showed Ms Bhutto had suffered a single wound to her head. Mr Minallah said the doctor who had written the report, the head of surgery at Rawalpindi General Hospital, had told him he believed Ms Bhutto had died of a bullet wound, though the medical notes make clear that a post-mortem examination was required.

"The doctors have said they were not allowed to perform an autopsy," said Mr Minallah.

While the government has offered to exhume Ms Bhutto's body in order to perform a post-mortem examination, her husband has said he will not allow her to be disturbed. He said the government could not be trusted to carry out tests.

The belief that she was shot has received support from several pieces of video footage, showing a man firing a gun at Ms Bhutto.

HAVE YOUR SAY on Pakistan's future after Bhutto: 'Her faults have been ignored to make her a martyr'

Benazir's faults and flaws have been overlooked in favour of exalting her to the status of some kind of martyr for freedom and democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The appointment of her son as the chair of the PPP is just another demonstration of this.

Benazir's husband Zardari is no saint either. That he has been allowed to take such a position of power is an insult to Pakistanis.

Haroon Khan

Talking about democracy for the country is one thing, how about democracy in the party itself? For all the tragedy in the killing of Benazir Bhutto, we cannot but state the fact that she led the party in an autocratic manner, appointing herself chairperson for life. The hope was that a more democratic set-up might emerge, but the people of Pakistan are being treated to more of the same.

Asif Rehman

The problem with all modernist analysis is the linking of democracy with individualism. Asian societies are collectivist in nature. That is why they choose in a feudal manner. You might say this is not democratic as per Western norms. But this is the tradition from the time before the advent of European ideas of democracy. Can't the Tariq Alis of the world ever take a non Euro-centric look at Asian variants of democracy?

Naras

Pakistan is a feudal society and the Bhutto family is the local royalty so it's not surprising that Benazir left the business to her son.

David Roberts

Pakistan is not an unsophisticated country where people vote for a dynasty. People know better, and given that Asif Ali Zardari is now in charge, who would vote for the king of thieves? He makes Richard Nixon look like Bambi.

Akram

It is a shame that a party claiming to represent democracy for Pakistan is run as the property of a particular family. Benazir would still be alive if she had represented her party's policies rather than the party representing her ambitions and the ambitions of her family. Then thorough debate and strategy would have decided how to confront the military and fundamentalism. But this desire for power and destiny clearly affected her judgement. Her will sullies her reputation.

kwadwo

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