An interesting development was released today: According to news sources, the CIA
(the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) has added its support to the Pakistani government view that Al Qaeda
and Pakistani militant, Baitullah Mehsud
were behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto
on December 27th. In an interview released by the Washington Post
today, CIA chief Michael Hayden
specifically said the former PM was killed by militants allied with Mehsud with support
from the AQ network. He said, “What you see is, I think, a change in the character of what’s going on there. You’ve got this nexus now that probably was always there in latency but is now active: a nexus between Al Qaeda and various extremist and separatist groups.” He added,
“It is clear that their intention is to continue to try to do harm to the Pakistani state as it currently exists.”Most Western press coverage of Pakistan focused on this announcement. The LA Times
, in its article, reported, “The intelligence official said he could not disclose how the CIA had reached that conclusion, including whether the assessment was based, at least in part, on a telephone call that Pakistani authorities say they intercepted shortly after Bhutto was killed. In that call, a man said to be Mehsud congratulates a cleric who claims that his associates carried out the killing
.” Despite Hayden not revealing the source of his claim, BBC News
noted, “Correspondents say that Mr. Hayden’s comments are the most comprehensive public assessment by U.S. intelligence of Ms. Bhutto’s death.” Although the Pakistani government (and now the CIA) has claimed that Baitullah Mehsud was behind Benazir’s assassination, the pro-Taliban leader has denied involvement, although the LA Times noted he has not commented on the purported call.
Just who is Baitullah Mehsud, however? Just this morning, before I read this latest development, I was listening to a profile by NPR on the militant leader, and was intrigued by how little is actually known about him [the picture above was posted by the BBC, whose caption read: “Baitullah Mehsud has an aversion to publicity and photographs”]. According to NPR, these are the facts we know: Mehsud is in his early 30s, he is from the Mehsud tribe in southern Waziristan, he fought against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and wants to see the introduction of Shari’a law, and has been fighting against the Pakistani Army. President Pervez Musharraf has called Mehsud a “facilitator for Al Qaeda” and has accused him of organizing a wave of suicide bombings that have left 400 dead and 900 wounded in the last few months. According to the government’s logic, Benazir’s convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber; ergo, the attack must have been perpetrated by Al Qaeda-linked militants. However, the details become fuzzy when the video of her attack shows her being shot at before the blast occurred. Moreover, noted NPR, although the government cited the transcript of Mehsud’s conversation with another man as proof of his responsibility, there is no way to know whether they were indeed talking about Benazir’s assassination, or the authenticity of the recording.
With the paralleled poll [see the sidebar] still ongoing, readers of this blog seem torn over just who was responsible for Benazir’s assassination. This controversy aside, the rising power of Mehsud is a significant and problematic development for the current situation.
Oh, and another interesting article in today’s NY Times that I forgot to list – about the state of the Taliban insurgency in Peshawar.
(Picture from BBC News)