By Umar Cheema
Saturday, August 09, 2008
The US intelligence agencies taped Benazir Bhutto’s phone calls, prior to her arrival in Pakistan, in a bid to “play under-the-table, cut-throat games more effectively”, a new book has revealed.
“The Way of the World” authored by a Pulitzer Prize winning US journalist Ron Suskind, is full of disclosures, with its fair portion about Musharraf-Benazir conversation including Musharraf’s quote “You should understand something, your security is based on the state of our relationship”.
Suskind writes that Benazir Bhutto’s case of returning to Pakistan was strongly backed by Condoleezza Rice-led State Department and equally opposed by Vice President Dick Cheney who considered Bhutto “complicated and unpredictable”.
The book said whenever Benazir Bhutto went harsh on Musharraf, the US ambassador in Islamabad advised her to “tone down any criticism of Musharraf”. The author said Bhutto often regretted that Vice President Cheney never called Musharraf asking him to “behave” and instead kept her pressing for coming to terms with him.
As Musharraf, during telephonic conversations, refused entertaining her demand of revoking provision barring her becoming PM for third time, Bhutto said: “What you can give me (then)? May be some real reform in election commission”.
Musharraf said: “She should not be hoping for much there (reforms), either”. The book revealed US intelligence once intercepted Bhutto’s conversation with her son, Bilawal. “They’ve been listening to her calls for months, including an earlier call she made to her son.”
In that call, the book said, she told him (Bilawal) about the secret bank accounts that hold the family’s fortunes that investigators have long suspected are ill-gotten. Therefore when Bhutto once floated the idea of freezing foreign accounts of “key people around Musharraf”, a US official let her understand that the United States could, if need be, “constrain her assets” just as she was now suggesting they do to Musharraf.
According to the author, Bhutto’s representative started approaching the State Department, in spring 2006 to work out a plan for her return, but White House began taking her seriously after the widespread demonstrations in backdrop sacking of Chief Justice. And this plan was aimed to shore up an embattled Musharraf, a single-issue ally.
Bhutto would consider, the book said, the lawyers and especially Iftikhar Chaudhry were a “problem” and that they owned the “high ground of principle. While she was sprouting democratic rhetoric, the book said, she was caught in the deal room — a position in which she came close to mirroring the “say one thing but do another” behavior of the United States.
The book also discloses details of Bhutto’s meeting with US Senator John Kerry requesting for her security and his reply that “United States is generally hesitant to ensure the protection of anyone who is not a designated leader”.
The notable excerpts from the book related to Pakistan have been given below:
Author said the US National Security Agencies (NSAs) were doing this job. Regarding Bhutto’s conversation with Bilawal, he writes: “The NSA was listening. They’ve been listening to her calls for months, including an earlier call she made to her son, Bilawal. The subject of the secret is often aware that evidence has been collected that may be used to drive judgments and may be even destructive actions…The NSA, meanwhile, has harvested a number of portentous conversation of Benazir Bhutto. This should help the United States play its under the table, cut-throat games more effectively. The intercept will be cited inside the US government as evidence of Bhutto’s unfitness, her corruption. It will be used as part of a wider “carrot and stick” programme in which the United States let Bhutto know they were happy to work with her in setting up a marriage with Musharraf, but they could make her life difficult if she started to improvise and freelance. What they’ll overlook is the context and her tone in the many calls they eavesdrop or overlook the fact that she’s scared and preparing for the possibility of imminent death… Bhutto didn’t know about the NSA’s intercepts, but a US official let her understand that the United States could, if need be, “constrain her assets,” just as she was now suggesting they do to Musharraf.”
Telephonic conversation with Musharraf:
Referring to conversation that took place three weeks before her return when she was meeting US lawmakers at Capitol Hill, including John Kerry, and State Department officials, he writes: “Suddenly the couple (Bhutto-Zardari) turns. One of Bhutto’s aides is rushing towards them, saying he’s just gotten a call from one of Musharraf’s aides. The aide says that Musharraf can’t support Bhutto on a key demand — the repeal of the provision prohibiting a third term for the prime ministers — and he wants to talk to her… Bhutto takes the call from Islamabad. “The twice-elected provision is important to me,” she tells Musharraf. “If you’re retreating from that, what can you give me? May be some real reform in the election commission?” He says she shouldn’t be hoping for much there, either. In their many calls, he’s been surprisingly cordial, often quite reasonable. But something has changed. His voice is harsh, almost mocking her. She asks if the US officials have had conversation with him that makes it clear that her safety is his responsibility. “Yes, someone has called”, Musharraf says, and then laughs. “The Americans can call all they want with their suggestions about you and me, let them call,” he tells her… He finishes the call with a dose of fair warning. “You should understand something,” Pervez Musharraf says, finally to Benazir Bhutto. “Your security is based on the state of our relationship.” She hangs up the phone feeling as though she might be sick.
Regarding Musharraf’s call to Bhutto after assassination attempt on her arrival in Karachi, the author writes: “By the next day, Musharraf calls Bhutto at her estate near Karachi. She accepts his sympathies reluctantly. “I’m not the enemy, Bibi.” She says little. She knows the lines are tapped. It’s a new hand and she is not showing her card.”
Conversation with Senator John Kerry:
As Bhutto met John Kerry in Washington, three weeks before going back to Pakistan, author writes: “The priority of this trip is to get Bhutto the security support she lacks. October 18 is only three weeks away. Kerry is swift off the mark: “This is a volatile situation you’re walking into, Benazir.” The United States, he says, is generally hesitant to ensure the protection of anyone who is not a designated leader, a provision to prevent US forces from becoming embroiled in the internal disputes of sovereign nations. “Senator Kerry, I want Pakistan to provide me with the security I am entitled to under the laws of my country. I’d be grateful if you would talk to the Musharraf government and tell him the US expects he will fulfill those obligations.” Kerry sighs. Of course, he, a senator, can’t conduct unilateral foreign policy. “Well, Benazir, I will certainly talk to the State Department about that point being made to Musharraf,” he says as forcefully as credulity will allow… Her current fortune, however, are in hands of a half-a-dozen people beyond her orbit: a tight circle of policy makers in senior posts at the State Department and in the Vice President’s Office. All official contacts with Pakistan on Bhutto’s behalf must be channeled through this small group, overseen, in essence, by Cheney and Rice, a duo with a long history of internecine combat. Most of it dominated by the vice president.”
Condoleezza Rice Vs. Dick Cheney:
“The initiative to reinsert Bhutto into Pakistan, was, in fact, launched and led by Rice and her State Department. Cheney’s position, expressed to the president on several occasions, was ‘don’t mess with this,’ according to one of his senior foreign policy advisers. ‘Our feeling,’ said Cheney’s adviser, summing up the view of the vice president, “was that arranging this marriage can only backfire on us. Bhutto is complicated and unpredictable. It’s best to just support Musharraf, give him whatever he wants or needs to stay in power.’ ‘Our position,’ the advisor added, ‘is that this whole thing with Bhutto is being run out of state. Let them fly or fall on their own.”
Rice-Bhutto telephone talk:
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who’s been handling the Bhutto-Musharraf talks, falls ill and needs to be hospitalized. Condi Rice tries to step in. She calls a London hotel where Bhutto is meeting Pakistani supporters. Bhutto does not take the call. “Someone said that Condi Rice was on the phone,” she (Bhutto) said later, I thought they were joking”… She and Bhutto talk several times through a long night and into the next morning, ironing out some sticking points with Musharraf. Bhutto tells her she’s concerned about her security… She’s suspicious that the United States sees her value mostly as a means to shore up Musharraf — rather than as a champion of democratic ideals — and to describe her exchange with the general would show just untenable a couple they would make.
Musharraf’s visa denial to security firm:
Two days before she boards the plane, Bhutto is concerned. Her team has been frantically trying to beef up her security… Mark Siegel and Larry Wallace, Bhutto’s American advisers, have been working the problem with Blackwater. In September, representatives from the firm flew to meet with Bhutto at her home in Dubai and laid out several security plans, each costing about $400,000 per month. They intended to work in conjunction with affiliated firms inside of Pakistan, because Musharraf had blocked visas from being issued to imported Americans security personnel for Bhutto… She turns the firm down. She knows that the United States has accepted Musharraf’s assurance that he had her security under control, but she does not trust him and sends an “in the event of my death” note, identifying various hard-line Islamist officials in his orbit who should be held responsible in the event that she is killed.
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