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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...