- Bomber Sketch Released
- Two Severed Heads Found; Police Still Assert One Bomber
- Explosives: Russian-Made Grenade and 14 kg RDX suicide belt
- Multiple Attack Teams?
- A Nexus Against Bhutto?
- Political Fallout of the Attacks: Playing Musical Chairs Can Be Dangerous
- More Questions
PAKISTANI POLICE RELEASES IMAGE OF ALLEGED KARACHI BOMBER
Sindh Police has released a sketch of the severed head of an individual it alleges is the sole suicide bomber in Friday’s Karsaz Bridge attack. Reuters’ Kamran Haider quotes a Pakistani security official as stating, “The age of the suspect is between 20 to 25 and he looks to be a Karachiite.” Based on the image, the individual could be from anywhere in Pakistan’s southern half. Karachi is also a diverse city populated by a plurality of Urdu-speaking migrants from India, as well as Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, Balochis, Memons, Afghani refugees, Bengalis, and even some Africans. However, the choice of a Karachiite makes sense, as the individual would more easily mix into the crowd and know his way around Pakistan’s largest city. The sketch of his reconstructed face as well as fingerprints believed to be from his severed limbs have been sent to the National Registration and Database Authority (NADRA) and it could come back with results on the bomber’s identity as early as Monday. According to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, approximately 53.5 million Pakistanis have computerized National Identity Cards (NIC) with biometrics as of September 2006. NADRA also makes use of face recognition technology. A second severed head was found — which could support the claims of two suicide bombers made by the Bhutto camp — but police believe that he was a victim of the blasts, not a perpetrator.
THE FIRST BLAST
Pakistani security officials have shed light on the weapons used in Friday’s attack, but there are conflicting narratives and many questions remain.
Karachi Police’s lead investigator Manzoor Mughal states that the first blast came from a Russian-made hand grenade of approximately 1kg (2.2 lbs). He matches my initial theory on Friday that the goal of the grenade attack was to cause the crowd to disperse, create a hole in Bhutto’s security cordon, and try to take out the former prime minister.
Still, it remains unclear who threw the grenade. Government officials seem to insist on the role of a single attacker, a theory that makes little sense. It puts too much responsibility in the hands of one individual and maximizes the risk of jeopardizing the whole operation.
Let’s assume the suicide bomber threw the grenade. He would need some distance from the convoy, and the greater the distance from the convoy, the greater the risk that he could be caught on his way to it. Moreover, he would’ve attracted attention to himself by throwing the grenade, which was only a means to a more explosive end.
THE TEAM(S): GUNNERS AND BOMBERS?
Statements by the Bhutto camp further the idea that there was more than one actor involved. It claims there were two suicide bombers at Karsaz, which, as I stated earlier, receives some support by the presence of two severed heads on the scene of the blast. However, there is little other evidence at this point to suggest that there was another suicide bomber involved in the attack at Karsaz. But important details coming from the People’s Party point to a wider conspiracy.
In her Friday press conference, Bhutto stated that her convoy came under gunfire, some of which was aimed at the tires of her vehicle. She is unsure as to whether this occurred before or after the second blast. This suggests the suicide bomber was accompanied by several other accomplices, and there are reports a group of men waiting underneath Karsaz Bridge attracted the suspicions of many before the blast. One report states that they were allegedly wielding sticks (another report says they were also yelling), but makes little sense.
In any event, there is significant reason to believe that the suicide bomber received gun support from several armed men, one of whom potentially threw the grenade. And there is indication that there could have been multiple attack teams, consisting of at least one gunner and one suicide bomber, posted along Bhutto’s 20+ mile parade route.
THE SUICIDE BOMBER THAT GOT NABBED
Bhutto states her security personnel apprehended two men, one with a gun and another with a suicide belt, prior to the blasts. It is unclear when and where the gunner was arrested, but the man with the suicide belt was arrested 13 minutes before the blast in Karachi’s Nursery area—which is further along the parade route, DIRECTLY in between the site of the successful blasts and Bhutto’s intended destination: Mazar-e Quaid.
Were they caught near one another? If so, they could have been part of a team of at least two. Where are they now? Are they being interrogated?
Sindh Home Secretary Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem told Reuters on October 17 of reports that three different groups were planning to attack Bhutto on her return. It appears he was referring to three units sent by Baitullah Mehsud. So was there a third cell? If so, where were they waiting, and where are they now?
THE SECOND BLAST
The second blast, which occurred between 30-60 seconds later, was, according to Karachi Police’s lead investigator, from a suicide belt laden packed with 15-20 kg (33-44 lbs) of RDX explosives and shrapnel, perhaps consisting of “ball-bearings and pellets.” Ghulam Muhammad adds that it also contained nuts and bolts. Clearly the goals were to penetrate the armor of Bhutto’s vehicle and, if unsuccessful, inflict mass damage. The attacker sought to get as close to Bhutto as possible, but apparently only made it to the front-left side, while Bhutto was safely in the back.
THE NETWORK: A MILITARY-CIVILIAN-JIHADI NEXUS?
While the mechanics of the attack are significant, the organizational forces behind it are more important. There is, of course, the theory that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are behind the attacks — independently — without any the support of military, intelligence, or political forces inside Pakistan. However, Baitullah Mehsud has denied involvement in the attacks and neither Osama bin Laden nor Ayman al-Zawahiri have made any statements against Bhutto. They have, however, repeatedly called for the overthrow of Pervez Musharraf. Bhutto has never been on the radar of al-Qaeda Prime, though the same can’t be same for the Taliban.
A more plausible, but still highly-speculative alternative is a loose network of individuals with various, intersecting interests that share one major obstacle: Benazir Bhutto.
Their feud with Bhutto centers on a fight over the control of Punjab and preventing the rolling back of the autonomy of various current and former military-intelligence officials, their fiefdoms, and unconventional wars.
Though Bhutto refused to name the three officials she listed in a letter to Pervez Musharraf prior to her return as direct threats to her life, we’re getting clear indication of who they and their potential associates are.
They include (in order of importance):
- Ejaz Shah:
- The Chaudhry Cousins — Pervez Ellahi and Shujaat Hussain:
- Respectively, chief minister of Punjab and president of Musharraf’s party, the PML-Q;
- Rise to power allegedly orchestrated by Ejaz Shah;
- Stand to lose the most from a Bhutto-Musharraf deal — national power + potentially control of Punjab;
- Exchanged a vigorous war of words with Bhutto prior to her return;
- Bhutto did not mention their names in her long list of politicians that called on her to support;
- Fear Bhutto’s potential inroads into Punjab, which would be done by mobilizing masses in rural Punjab;
- On Saturday, Shujaat called for banning political rallies during election season.
- Minister of Religious Affairs in current government;
- Member of Chaudhries’ PML-Q party;
- Son of Zia-ul-Haq:
- Former president and military ruler of Pakistan who overthrew Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had him executed;
- Later killed in an air crash believed by some to be orchestrated by a terrorist group, al-Zulfikar, run by Benazir’s brother Murtaza.
- Potential others:
- Arbab Rahim:
- Chief Minister of Sindh;
- Strong likelihood that he and his party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), will lose control of the province in next elections to Benazir’s People’s Party (PPP);
- MQM militants attacked PPP activists (and militants) in Karachi street violence coinciding with the ill-fated visit of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to city on May 12, 2007;
- Bhutto, however, has stated that the next potential attack against her would involve framing the MQM as the culprits.
- Haji Omar [profile]:
Even if any of the government figures above are involved in the attacks on Bhutto, public punitive action against them would be unlikely. Bhutto, by refusing to mention their names directly, perhaps understands this and would accept their removal from the power structure alone.
POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS
Pakistani authorities have detained three men in southern Punjab they believe have links to the blast. This suggests that those who implemented Friday’s terror could include elements of the network oft-described as the “Punjabi Taliban.” Rashid Rauf, alleged to be involved in the summer 2006 al-Qaeda airline plot, was arrested in Bahawalpur, located in southeastern Punjab.
If the attacks were implemented by jihadis hailing from Punjab focused on FATA, Afghanistan, and Kashmir, it remains plausible these individuals were instruments of some of the institutional actors listed above. As a result, they bring several issues to the forefront: governance of Punjab; control of power at the center; and the future of jihad in Kashmir, FATA, and Afghanistan.
Pervez Musharraf is ultimately at the center of all this. The attacks will perhaps force him to make some compelling decisions in the coming weeks and months. Benazir Bhutto clearly understands this, and after the attacks, has been keen to remain on his good side, asserting directly and indirectly her confidence and trust in him.
Will Musharraf take a more assertive stance against the roguish military-intelligence figures near him? Or will he continue to play a precarious balance?
Musharraf might have to make a choice between two camps — the ‘progressives‘ : Tariq Aziz, Ashfaq Kiyani, and Hamid Javed; and the ‘conservatives‘: Ijaz Shah, Shujaat Hussain, and Pervez Ellahi.
The ‘progressives’ favor a deal with Benazir Bhutto and incline less toward support for unconventional warfare within and without Pakistan. The ‘conservatives’ oppose a deal with Bhutto. They’ll definitely lose control of the center and potentially even Punjab, and they (for a variety of reasons) favor Pakistan’s waging of or support for unconventional wars abroad. Musharraf seems to be leaning toward the ‘progressives’, as he’s proposed Tariq Aziz as the caretaker prime minister for the elections and has chosen Ashfaq Kiyani as his succeeding army head.
Ijaz Shah’s posting will expire in February, which can provide a quiet way to say goodbye. The Chaudhries could end up becoming an unbearable burden for Musharraf. But any moves against them will have negative ramifications. It will create a void that can be naturally filled, but mainly by Nawaz Sharif, the elected prime minister Musharraf overthrew in 1999.
NAWAZ SHARIF: HOMEWARD BOUND?
The future of Nawaz Sharif remains murky. Two major questions that need to be considered are: 1) Will Musharraf permit Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan and a meaningful role in the political process? 2) Will Sharif change his tune and start to compromise with Musharraf? If the gap between the two is bridged a bit, then an opening can emerge to part ways with the Chaudhries, and bring in Sharif. But all-too-often, inclination toward compromise in Pakistan is seen as a vulnerability. Any sort of mending of relations between the two will require much time and energy — just look at how protracted the Bhutto-Musharraf talks were. Musharraf can perhaps count on Sharif to counter a rising Benazir, but the latter two could, alternatively, both focus on a vulnerable, uniformless Musharraf without a political base, and send him packing.
Reportedly the Saudis have serious objections to holding on to Nawaz beyond mid-November. Sharif was pressure by both Saad Hariri and Bandar bin Sultan to postpone his Saudi departure to after November 7. He was to leave Saudi for London in mid-October, but conceded to his detainers’ demands and only after reportedly becoming very emotional.
There are indications he is very demoralized. Shortly after the attacks, when speaking to a private Pakistani television station via telephone, his voice weakened as he answered a question about when he would return to the country. He meekly replied, “When the people of Pakistan call for me.” And after five seconds or so of silence, the call ended abruptly. Though Musharraf wants Sharif’s return only after the general elections, he is being forced to accept his earlier return. But it can be a severely injured Nawaz who would be more conciliatory after essentially being held hostage for two months.
- Where are the gunman and attempted suicide bomber apprehended by Bhutto’s security people and turned over to Karachi police? Are they being interrogated? Why haven’t they been mentioned in most reports?
- To what extent were Musharraf and Bhutto’s camps negligent?
- Did the jammers provided by Musharraf’s camp work?
- Did Bhutto’s supporters accidentally cause some of them to malfunction?
- Did it make sense for Bhutto to have an 18-hr procession, especially after individuals such as Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem urged her to end her procession before sunset and others offered her a helicopter? Why were Bhutto’s “security guards” young, scrawny volunteers? To what extent were they human shields? Wouldn’t professionals have been better?
- How will the attacks impact political rallies and mass mobilization? Will Bhutto travel extensively in Punjab?
- Did Bhutto’s intelligence come from India via Afghanistan?
- Will Musharraf go soft on the military-intel figures if they were involved in the attacks, but hard on jihadis in FATA (though they might have not been involved)?
- Will he use the attacks a pre-text for a massive, conclusive operation in FATA?
- 10/22/2007 – 3:15PM -
- I intended to note this in my original posting, forgot to do so, but was reminded Mushtaq Minhas made the point on AAJ TV’s Bolta Pakistan show that two of Pakistan’s leaders were assassinated — Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 and President Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 — and the perpetrators of the act were never identified.
- Assassination, violent political transitions, and intrigue date back to early in Pakistan’s history. These destructive impulses remain. And while Pakistan has an active and open press, that will not necessarily preclude the story from ‘closing’ with essential questions unanswered. The media (and public opinion) is a machine that can be manipulated and so much else can occur in between now and mid-January to ‘sandwich’ this story or push it to the side. In other words, there is a strong likelihood that the specific perpetrators of the act — and perhaps their organization affiliations — will be identified, but the elite forces behind them, if there were any, won’t be noted.
- I would not consider this a defeat for those who hope for a Pakistan that features: peaceful, institutionalized transitions of power; competitive politics; representative and good governance; and public accountability. The attacks can still be leveraged to forge a consensus among Pakistan’s discordant elite on norms of conduct and engagement, consolidate public support against the use of violence in politics, and open up the political process to those that have been marginalized.
- 10/22/2007 – 3:58PM –
- Sindh Governor Ishrat-ul-Ibad tells the NYT’s Carlotta Gall that there were two suicide bombers, carrying, respectively, 17-22 lbs and 33 lbs of C-4 explosives (not RDX). There were two heads found. Pakistani authorities previously stated that the second head was that of a victim and that the first blast was from a grenade.