Why Pakistan Taliban is claiming it killed Benazir Bhutto
It is a signal to the military against US-Pakistan partnership to counter-terror operations.
- Total Shares
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has for the first time claimed responsibility for the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. Pakistan Taliban’s claims are published in a book, Inqilab Mehsood South Waziristan - From British Raj to American Imperialism, written by a senior Taliban leader Abu Mansoor Asim Mufti Noor Wali.
The book was published on November 30, 2017, at Maseed Computer Centre at Barmal, in Afghanistan’s Paktika province. The 588-page book, posted online, contains TTP’s history, military operations, activities in Afghanistan, pictures of many Taliban leaders, and claims its involvement in a suicide bombing two months earlier at Bhutto’s procession in Karachi in October 2007, killing more than 140 people. The book claims that, “Despite attacks on Benazir Bhutto’s procession in Karachi, the government had not taken appropriate security measures that made it possible for the attackers to have easy access to Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi.”
According to the book, Bhutto was killed since “her return was planned on the behest of the Americans as they had given her a plan against the ‘Mujahideen-e-Islam'. And slain Pakistan Taliban founder Baitullah Mehsud had received information of the plan”.
For the first time, a terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the assassination which altered the political dynamics of Pakistan. Musharraf was accused of conspiring Bhutto’s assassination, murder trial remained controversial and Musharraf was declared fugitive. It is important to understand what compelled the TTP to make this announcement after 10 years. It would be useful to analyse some of the developments to be able to understand the unconventional move by the banned terrorist group.
Pakistan's military launched a major offensive, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, in 2014 in North Waziristan and Khyber, following a major attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on June 8, 2014. The Operation was seen as a major success within Pakistan and the official records projected remarkable decrease in suicide attacks, terrorist attacks and fatalities in terrorist attacks. However, while the operation targeted a large number of TTP operatives, it did not manage to control the growth of extremism and terror within the country. There were major terror attacks in northwestern region conducted by Jaamat-ul-Ahrar (JA), a splinter group of TTP. The beginning of 2017 witnessed a series of terror attacks claimed by ISIS, challenging the success of the military’s counter-terror efforts.
On February 22, 2017, Pakistan Army announced the launch of a nationwide military operation, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. According to an ISPR release, “the efforts entail conduct of broad spectrum security/counter terrorism operations by Rangers in Punjab, continuation of ongoing operations across the country and focus on more effectives border security management. Country wide de-weaponisation and explosive control are additional cardinals of the effort".
The operation came as a response to a series of at least six back-to-back attacks in Pakistan within a week (mid-February 2017), killing more than 100 people in different parts of Pakistan. One of the deadliest attacks in the string of terror attacks took place on February 16, when a suicide bomber blew himself up among the devotees in the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the town of Sehwan in Sindh province. The attack was claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and resulted in about 88 deaths and 300 injured. On the same day, in Awaran, an IED attack on a military convoy took place.
Radd-ul-Fasaad is a continuation of the "National Action Plan" which was formulated after the 2014 attack in Peshawar on Army Public School. Expectations with Radd-ul-Fasaad have been high and army has claimed positive results from the ongoing operation, but the fact remains, that military’s "selective approach" in targeting terrorists will never allow the counter-terror efforts to succeed.
Pakistan's military has been extremely proud of its counter-terror operations as these efforts have assisted the military to regain its waning credibility and prestige after Osama bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad. Pakistan did draw out some applause from the US administration for its efforts in April 2017.
The US-Pakistan relationship has been strained over the past six years and took an unyielding shift with the announcement of President Donald Trump’s Afghan policy which carried a firm message for Pakistan. Trump excoriated Pakistan for harboring criminals and terrorists. The US national security strategy revealed in December 2017 also carries an equally harsh message for Islamabad. Pakistan denied the charges and has reacted strongly to the US stance, claiming that Islamabad has lost 50,000 civilians and 6,000 security personnel in the war on terror and Washington cannot ignore these sacrifices.
Although the US-Pakistan relationship is at the lowest in the past 16 years, the fact remains that both nations need each others’ support for various compelling reasons. While the US will require Pakistan’s support till it wants to continue its presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan is reliant on the US given its influence in international organisations. Washington is pressurising Pakistan to intensify its counter-terror efforts and Pakistan cannot afford not to take US concerns and stance into consideration.
There have also been reports of ISIS establishing its base in Pakistan and spreading its tentacles. The Special Report 2017 ,published by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, alleges that ISIS is especially active in northern Sindh and Balochistan.
Given these developments - Pakistan's military rejoicing over its victory over terrorists (mainly TTP as it is the deadliest anti-state organisation), US pressure on Pakistan to intensify its counter-terror efforts and the threat posed by the expansion of ISIS - one can infer what led to Pakistani Taliban’s revelation of Bhutto’s assassination. The revelation at this point of time serves three main purposes for the TTP:
• It is a repeat signal to Pakistan's military that TTP would counter every move of US-Pakistan partnership in counter-terror operations.
• In the past one year, terror attacks by ISIS have been on the rise which poses a threat to TTP’s status. The announcement also helps the organisation to reassert its presence.
• Lastly and very importantly, it brings Pakistani Taliban in news and national and international limelight in an effort to maintain its positon and status in the competitive world of terrorism.
While Pakistan's military claims that terror attacks are reducing in numbers, the TTP appears to be intact and determined in its resolve to oppose the state.