Pakistan launches hunt for plotters against Bhutto

Pakistani investigators are trying to determine the extent of a plot within the armed forces to overthrow the Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, and replace her with a revolutionary Islamic regime.

A major-general, a brigadier and at least 38 other army officers are in custody "on charges of indiscipline", officialese for being suspected of wanting to topple Ms Bhutto. The putsch was thwarted last month but only now are details surfacing in the Pakistani press of how the plotters intended to arrest or kill the top generals and then kill leading politicians.

Ms Bhutto has evidently been assured the threat has passed, since she left on Monday for a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Colombia. Passing through London on her way to the summit, she declined to comment on the coup reports, saying the army was dealing with the matter. Officers, in fact, are still trying to determine how widespread support might be within the armed forces for this small but influential band of Islamic extremists.

Ms Bhutto is no stranger to military coups: her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was overthrown in 1977 and later executed by the generals. Twenty months into her first term, Ms Bhutto was jostled out by the generals. In Pakistan's turbulent democracy, military putsches have succeeded only when backed by the top generals; this last one was not.

The News daily said the strategist behind the plot was Brigadier Mustansir Billah, from the Baluch Regiment, who allegedly set up links with two armed Islamic militant groups, Harakat-ul-Ansar and Hezbi Mujaheddin, which are fighting in Kashmir, Bosnia and Chechnya, and have many Pakistani recruits. Ms Bhutto was targeted for being too pro-Western.

The joint chiefs of the army, navy and air force were to meet at general headquarters in Rawalpindi on 30 September. The mutinous officers planned to seize them and declare an Islamic government. Senator Tariq Choudhry, who first leaked news of the officers' arrest, said: "If the politicians did not behave, there would also be a killing of politicians."

The military were tipped off when they arrested a Harakat-ul-Ansar militant in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir. His capture, according to some sources, came about because Ms Bhutto is anxious to prove to Washington and London that Islamabad is not involved in the kidnapping of four Westerners, including two Britons, by Al-Faran, a suspected breakaway group from Harakat- ul-Ansar. No news was extracted from the activist about the hostages' whereabouts but instead the coup plot came to light. The militant allegedly disclosed,according to the News, that Brig Billah had gone to tribal territories near the Afghan frontier to buy arms for the insurrection. He and a colonel were reportedly arrested trying to smuggle the guns into military headquarters. The press said the plotters were so sure of success that they had already designated exalted titles for themselves as revolutionary Islamic leaders.

Some Western diplomats suggested the coup inquiry into the abortive coup might lead to a further purge of fundamentalist officers who still cling to the pan-Islamic vision of Zia ul-Haq, the military president killed in 1988.

Ms Bhutto 's popularity has fallen sharply in recent months. She has failed to end ethnic violence in Karachi and cannot shake off the reek of corruption that clings to her administration. But Pakistanis, having lived with military rule for 25 of the country's 48 years of existence, have few illusions about the military. Nor could an Islamic regime count on much support from outside; no Western government, and few Muslim ones, would back mutineers who toppled a moderate democracy.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, Ms Bhutto's brother-in-law, Nassir Hussain, has been arrested in connection with the death of a a local politician, Ahmed Ali Soomro. Although married to Ms Bhutto's younger sister, he was considered an adversary, since he sided against the Prime Minister in a family feud.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice