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‘I have sent my men to welcome Benazir’

Published Aug 07, 2012 09:28am


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Baitullah Mehsud speaks to reporters. – File photo by AP
Baitullah Mehsud speaks to reporters. – File photo by AP

On August 6, 1990, Benazir Bhutto’s first government was dismissed on the charges of corruption. She came into power again but that government, too, was dismissed on similar grounds. She then went into exile and returned only to be assassinated.

On the morning of October 4, I got out of bed as usual, had breakfast and decided to wear a shalwar kameez because the man I was going to meet that day had religious inclinations. For him, the first impression of a pant-shirt wearing person could be that of being Westernised, secular or non-religious. I did not want our conversation to be overshadowed by a feeling of unnecessary caution. Anyway, I reached the Parliament Lodges on schedule at 10 am and knocked on his door.

Pakistan was at crossroads at the time. After dismissing Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on May 9, 2007, military dictator Pervez Musharraf was losing his grip. Meanwhile, the government had become a target of criticism by the religious factions following the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad. Right-wing parties, in particular, had slammed Musharraf’s government. Left-wing Pakistan People’s Party, however, was in favour of the operation and in fact, its exiled leader Benazir Bhutto, slammed the government for delaying the operation and claimed that had she been in power, the operation would have been carried out much earlier in a more effective manner.

Amidst such political climate, extremists had increased the intensity of suicide attacks in the country. In August, Baitullah Mehsud, along with his  men, had kidnapped around 150 soldiers in the tribal region of South Waziristan. Senator Saleh Shah, who was known to be a close friend of Mehsud, was – along with a few aides - trying to act as  mediator between the government and the militant leader to get the kidnapped soldiers released.

This was the time when Musharraf, realising his weakening grip on power, had secretly met with Bhutto in Dubai. The famous National Reconciliation Ordnance (NRO) 2007 was being finalised. (It was issued on October 5.)

The door was opened by Senator Shah's son. Senator Shah, a youngish, fair man, with an average height, hailed from South Waziristan. He had previously tried his luck at a seat in the Upper House but this was the first time he was elected to the Senate as a representative from South Waziristan.

Wearing his traditional tribal grey shalwar kameez and a light grey turban, Senator Shah entered his drawing room. His smile indicated a feeling of warmth but his face bore signs of seriousness. I introduced myself and told him that I work for an English newspaper. When I showed interest in the mediation process, he revealed that he had met Mehsud the previous day. He spoke in a kind and soft manner, but with carefully chosen words. He revealed that Mehsud had beheaded two soldiers the previous night. The news, he indicated, was exclusively being revealed to me and would be much sought-after by all investigative reporters.

I wrote down the details in my notebook and went ahead with my questions.

However, soon it became apparent that Senator Shah did not want to reveal much “on the record.” When I sought his views on the fairness of suicide attacks, he told me that since both the agencies and terrorists were very influential in his region, he didn’t want to say something that could endanger his life.

He said that under the prevailing circumstances, it was not possible to discuss the status of suicide attacks in the light of Sharia. After a few generic questions, I brought his attention towards General Musharraf and his secret meeting with Bhutto. I highlighted that left-wing parties had met with Musharraf and both shared a common stance against extremists, which had led to the consensus on NRO. “Have you never spoken to your friend Baitullah Mehsud about this? What does he think of the fact that they (Musharraf and left-wing parties) are planning to take action against Baitullah and his allies?”

Saleh Shah smiled at my question and said, “You have asked a good question. I have spoken to Baitullah about this. He does not fear anyone. Baitullah says Benazir is an American agent and he has sent his people to welcome her (when she returns to Pakistan).”

I quickly jotted down this reply in my notebook and shot my next question: This clearly means that Baitullah will target Benazir with a suicide attack?

After reaching work, I typed out the story and having gone through the resident editor, it reached my editor Najam Sethi, who took out the part about the soldiers’ beheading and turned the part about the threat Benazir Bhutto faced upon her return into a separate story and ran it as a leading story on the front page.

A day after the news was published, it created a stir in the country. All leading foreign and local news organisations monitored it with great interest. This was the first official news revealing the threat of assassination Bhutto faced upon her return.

Exactly two years later, when I was able to access secret documents related to Bhutto’s assassination, I found out that ten days after the publication of my story (October 15) Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had informed the then Secretary Defence Kamal Shah about a possible threat to her life.

The day my story was published by Daily Times, preparations were underway in Islamabad to elect Musharraf as president. Bhutto was in Dubai. Musharraf was in Islamabad. And Benazir’s assassins were busy planning their attack. Yet we had not fully realised that what was just a big story for us will turn into reality in the near future. Such is the life of a reporter.


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Comments (77) Closed

shair khan Aug 07, 2012 10:07am
Wow.... Very good article.
farazbinahmad Aug 07, 2012 10:26am
pleasure reading this
Kashif Aug 07, 2012 10:52am
Can we please get over with the Bhutto family ?
Amjad Wyne Aug 07, 2012 12:44pm
If I remember correctly, there were a couple of attempts on Musharraf's life too that were traced back to Mehsud but he narrowly escaped. But obviously I do not know Mehsud as well as you seem to do.
Kashif Aug 07, 2012 01:24pm
Mehsud sent his men to assassin Bhutto, Americans killed Mehsud; Case closed. I did not get that what reporter is trying to achieve by this article. This is the same stance which took by then interior official Mr. Cheema. It was the duty of PPP government to unfold all events and identify all who were responsible of this event but after four years we have nothing but again Baitullah Mehsud. This is election year and PPP has to answer questions like: Who killed Bhutto? How this happened? Who is responsible? What happened to those who are responsible? etc.
Kamran Khan Aug 07, 2012 11:01am
Mehsud was a bragger, actually Benazir was assassinated by Mushraf. If Mehsud had that much approach in killing a high profile profile person, he would have defiantly killed Musharaf first.
ahmed Aug 07, 2012 10:58am
still her death is a mystery..
truth bites Aug 07, 2012 01:24pm
its clear Mehsud carried out this at operation level. Big question that no one answer, who is behind Mehsud? and why current Mehsud leader is safely living Afghanistan? on whose protection? if we get the answer to these questions, it will be very clear who planned and benefitted from her murder! The answer everyone scared to say! though many knows for sure!
Amjad Wyne Aug 07, 2012 12:37pm
As I read this article, it occured to me that the nation does not talk about the future. Everythig I have read in the Dawn (and this must be the case with the other Pakistani publications too) over the last several years indicates that the focus remains on the past. Is our future so bleak and dark that no one even brings it up or bothers to discuss?
Azad Aug 07, 2012 01:49pm
BB was martyred through an evil nexus, people want to get over it, but her assassination has sowed a seed of hatred in Sindh, that hatred could snow ball into a new crisis of greater magnitude.
Abdullah Hussain Aug 07, 2012 02:44pm
I would not like to comment on Benazir's assassination, its cause or source. The important thing that seems moving along hand in hand with PPP is "Corruption" PPP govt was twice removed due to corruption and the third reign is in front of us so we can judge.
Rida Aug 07, 2012 03:15pm
What's so mysterious about her death?by reading her last book and this articles it is evident that nothing is mysterious.If one does not want to believe these things ,one goes on to mystify the matter!
mohammad shafiq Aug 07, 2012 04:01pm
If mehsud had assassinated benazir he would have touted it as a great victory but he always denied responsibility for that action The decision to assaasinate benazir was taken at the highest level
Ahsan Adv. Aug 07, 2012 04:22pm
You should have informed the concerned agencies about your meeting with that Senator. I do not think that Mehsud was that much Powerful that he could assassinate such a high profile figure in the heart of Islamabad. And he got no benefit.
Shujaat Ayub Khan Aug 07, 2012 04:33pm
Amjad you have driven the nail in the right place.
Cyrus Howell Aug 07, 2012 04:40pm
Pakistanis talk about the future. Pakistan will be a world super power in 2040. That's the problem. Talk is cheap.
Cyrus Howell Aug 07, 2012 04:42pm
It is a very haunting photograph of Benazir Bhutto that was chosen here.
Cyrus Howell Aug 07, 2012 04:46pm
It was no mystery to the assassin where to find her. That she would be inside an armored car.
Karachi Wala Aug 07, 2012 05:50pm
What you have been reading in the last few years, do you see and hope for the betterment? I do not.
Umair Aug 07, 2012 05:52pm
couldnt agree more.
Guest Aug 07, 2012 05:58pm
Musharaf's future was tied to Benazir. He gained nothing from her death, instead lost all. So to say he killed her is totally wrong. In fact if she had stayed inside the car as the authorities told her to she would not have been killed. After all everyone who stayed in the car survived; and that is a fact.
Buts Aug 07, 2012 06:00pm
Who really is the lucky person , got the biggest prize,beyond dreams,of Benazir Bhatu's assasination...
asfi Aug 07, 2012 06:19pm
What a conclusion? Silly
Noor Aug 07, 2012 06:22pm
and still we havnt learned anything from past
Buta Aug 07, 2012 06:37pm
Who really benifited from Benazir's assasination.
Capt C M Khan Aug 07, 2012 06:41pm
the Killer was Mashud. That is a fact. Benazir knew the threat but took her chance and she lost her life. End of story.
Muhammad Alvi Aug 07, 2012 06:41pm
There is nothing so great about this article. It is a thing of the past. Let us forget about who killed who. Let us think about the problems that the country is facing and try to solve them. If everybody contributes even a little bit, the problems will get solved. Every article I read is about the chronology of past events. "Stop thinking about the past, and start thinking about the future."
M Rafique Aug 07, 2012 06:52pm
Do you have prove that Musharaf has assassinated Benazir
G. Shirazi Aug 07, 2012 07:09pm
It only takes one bullet to kill. In Pakistan lots of people have access to guns.
Adil Jadoon Aug 07, 2012 07:34pm
Why would Musharraf kill Benazir after finalizing a deal with her? Who gained the most from her death and who was responsible for her security? Follow the leads and the answer will be quite obvious.
Naeem Syed Aug 07, 2012 07:38pm
There was no advantage for Musharaf in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Maybe Kamran Khan has the inside scoop for him to make such a positive statement ? Care to share it with us!
Hamza Aug 07, 2012 07:54pm
Why a nation still mourns over the death of a leader who lived their lives in utmost comfort and not even sacrificed a single penny for the nation where as why we do have such articles on those who really did something for this country.
Syed Aug 07, 2012 08:33pm
amen to that, I wonder how many readers picked it up but yes, it's zia bhutto ayyub and that's it, nothing for the future, the "crying" of the past like it was golden or something. I think the media needs to get proactive and try to write and promote planning for the future, enough with the past already.
syed Aug 07, 2012 08:47pm
Whatever the reasons for her death is not important, what is more important is that she did not serve the country when in power on two occasions. During her regime her brother son of ZAB was murdered did she do anything about it. Her government was also dismissed by a President belonging to PPP. Pakistanis should concentrate more on getting out of the existing mess created by current PPP Government and concentrate on future.
Hassan Aug 07, 2012 09:13pm
But Why has Zardari never formally recorded any statement to any inquiry. He once famously said he knows the killers. Why he went to UN. Why he does not seem bothered about BB's murderers! Zardari has more questions to answer than Mehsud!
Silajit Aug 07, 2012 10:28pm
Mehsud faced no worse of a future with Benazir in charge than he faced with Musharraf being Judge, Jury and Executioner. Benazir killed by Mehsud just does not make sense - except to enemies of Mehsud.
Kanwal Aug 07, 2012 10:29pm
And nobody ever mentions the dozens of poor people who died in the blast when this caution to her life was ignored. Poor public. We dont get to become martyrs, being on the outside of bullet and bomb proof vehicles of our elite.
Nadeem Aug 07, 2012 10:55pm
She needs to be tried for treason and theft and robbery from the poor trusting people of Pakistan.
AHMED Aug 07, 2012 11:19pm
theres a 190 million people out there lthat we need to look after lets put a stop to this now , its getting very boring
Lioness Aug 07, 2012 11:55pm
Who cares any more
NASAH (USA) Aug 08, 2012 12:05am
Remember the saying -- those who don't remember the history are forced to repeat it. Dawn is doing the right thing to treat the amnesia.
NASAH (USA) Aug 08, 2012 12:11am
"I have sent my men to welcome Benazir" -- if someone will hose off the site soon after the Welcome is over.
Irfan Aug 08, 2012 12:36am
Nicely done. You suddenly realized now or just found your diary?
Ravian Aug 08, 2012 01:08am
What is the idea of publishing this article today when her own husband, who is reaping the 'fruits' of her murder and her party seem hardly interested in finding the killer we are being made to read the same 'stale' news which was flashed across the world soon after her murder. Rightly said by Kashif, lets get over with the Bhutto family.
Masood Hussatn Aug 08, 2012 01:11am
We are a nation who has alw ays We are nation who have always livew in the past and will continue doing so because it is our psyche and our leaders,political and religeous,both want this It helps them in getting their followers sentimental very quickly andtheir demagogy and rabble-rousing succeeds, lived in the past will continue doing it
BNS Aug 08, 2012 01:21am
I share the same views as Amjad Wyne. Lets talk what needs to be done and not what happened.
Dehwar Aug 08, 2012 01:36am
They talk about the past because the writers remind their leaders to learn some lessons from the past, which I am sure they will never give a heed to it.
Zaradari Aug 08, 2012 01:46am
Now we have Zardari family .... Muslim league has sharif family .... We live in familydom ( a kind of kingdom)
Saki Aug 08, 2012 02:01am
The Bhutto family has done a huge economic social and political damage to Pakistan let them disappear into the ENGLISH sunset........
Pakistani Aug 08, 2012 03:00am
Whats the point of giving this story - Clearly our educated class lacks direction
A Mateen Aug 08, 2012 03:00am
I recall reading your article prior to Benazir's assassination. Though she was stubborne politician like her father, the ultimate responsibility of her safe return and stay in the country should have been with the then president Musharraf and his government. After all she was the former prime miinister and a world known leader.
GhulamNabi Aug 08, 2012 03:33am
This shows our national attitude towards important issues ....!. Still we are not learning ...!
Waqar Aug 08, 2012 04:20am
DAWN PLEASE talk about FUTURE... past is past... let it go for GOD's sake!!
SQS Aug 08, 2012 04:52am
And when are you sending your men to welcome Mr President?
seema Aug 08, 2012 11:26am
One who hose the crime scene.
Twilight Aug 08, 2012 01:52pm
Fire brigade ;)
Raoul Ciao Aug 08, 2012 05:57am
good the drones got Baitullah the merecenary . One good thing the drones did !
Reham Aug 08, 2012 07:10am
Baitullah Masood did not murder of Ma'm Banzeer Bhutto !
rana Aug 08, 2012 07:16am
A bitter reality... but the question is..........if a reporter can find the story then why not spy agencies......
Love Pakistan Aug 08, 2012 07:51am
The person who asked BB to stand out the emergency top hatch killed her. People who were with her in side the Armoured SUV are still A LIVE. Who received the most benefits?
Amanat Aug 08, 2012 07:55am
This article is trying to propagate the idea that Mehsud killed Benazir.
Ixion Aug 08, 2012 09:29am
The timing and content of this article have a motive: To pave the way for the return of NRO-author, Musharraf.
shankar Aug 08, 2012 09:45am
A Prime Minister was mercilessly murdered and all you ca say is let us get over with the Bhutto family! May be you prefer a sacrificial lamb from each family! How insensitive!
shankar Aug 08, 2012 09:51am
Can't understand why Pakistanis won't accept that benazir was murdered by Meshud and his terrorists! There are always questions about who benefited leading to more conspiracy theories!
Haji Ashfaq Aug 08, 2012 09:52am
Agree quite,
Fazal Baloch Aug 08, 2012 11:22am
It seems writer of this blog wants to attract peoples attention with such stories. If he is true than where was he hiding for so long. This story is just another example of Pakistani journalists who are looking for publicity.
Raja imran Dhruggi Aug 08, 2012 12:07pm
When Benzir husband and his children are not serious to investigate the matter why other people are worried?Being a president he is salient it means he knows everything.
shumail Aug 08, 2012 01:30pm
yet she was educated and we can not afford losing educated people we already have a few as you know
Haji Ashfaq Aug 08, 2012 01:42pm
Yes, he has said it many a times - that he knows who killed BB and also knows who killed Mir Murtaza Bhutto.
Haji Ashfaq Aug 08, 2012 01:50pm
Not that 'who killed BB'. Who got her killed is theme of the matter. All those responsible ? They had run away from the scene immediately - and all are the at the helm of affairs.
RHS Aug 08, 2012 03:04pm
Baitullah Mehsud had to have other influence. BB's killers are many but it is doubtful that Musharraf is one of them. Keep looking!
anony Aug 08, 2012 08:26pm
Exactly...who cares.
anony Aug 08, 2012 08:27pm
I agree
anony Aug 08, 2012 08:28pm
Excellently said Syed.
SID Aug 09, 2012 02:51am
Bring your family in if you have political merit. BB always encouraged people to enter in the political field which is open for all.
ABB Aug 10, 2012 05:35pm
BB was an highly educated woman, She had Philipino woman when Bilawal born as Nanny, why not Sindhi woman from Interior sindh, Why not School build in Interior Sindh ? why she did not Build Library in Interior sindh Because Bibi was self centered woman from Rich sindhi family and kept her sindhi community uneducated..that was BIBI daughter of east RIP God Bless her soul
Cyrus Howell Aug 11, 2012 08:06am
"Those who ignore the mistakes of history are condemned to repeat them." George Santayana