Here I take my lumps like everyone else. Throughout the day I've either said that the most likely culprit for the Bhutto assassination is "the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda," or I've reported the j'accuse issued by others that Pervez Musharraf is in some way culpable. But what if that's all wrong? According to a former intelligence official with deep experience on Pakistan, there's a third, and perhaps more likely culprit: internally-focused Pakistani Islamist militants without significant links to al-Qaeda.
The ex-intel official doesn't have any ground truth. But, s/he says, the organizations with the most to gain and the least to lose by assassinating Bhutto are the groups "like Lashkar e-Toiba, or the Jaish e-Mohammed." Those groups' ties to al-Qaeda are much, much less than that of the Pakistani Taliban, and their focus is entirely domestic. "There are numerous groups that fit in the militant category whose focus began with Kashmir, but they oppose all U.S.-Pakistani relations and all secular politics," the official says. "They strongly disapprove of the role of Benazir, on every ground, and they have every reason to let Musharraf take the blame. They check every box."
Again, it's pure speculation. But the ex-intel official doesn't believe Musharraf has much to gain by killing Bhutto once the cost of international and domestic outrage are factored in. As to why al-Qaeda wouldn't kill Bhutto, the ex-official wasn't as definitive: "It's very possible al-Qaeda had a hand in it, but I'd look carefully at the domestic component." Ideology wouldn't be what divides al-Qaeda or the Pakistani Taliban from the groups this official considers plausible suspects in the killing: "They all oppose the war on terror and would like to see an Islamist Pakistan, something very much like the Taliban in Afghanistan in Pakistan. There are a huge range of groups that I think are candidates. And no oneâs talking about them."
However, an Italian news agency reported receiving a claim of responsibility from al-Qaeda's Afghanistan commander:
A spokesperson for the al-Qaeda terrorist network has claimed responsibility for the death on Thursday of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
âWe terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,â Al-Qaedaâs commander and main spokesperson Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone call from an unknown location, speaking in faltering English.
The New York Sun's Eli Lake -- yeah, yeah, it's a right-wing paper, but Lake is a top-shelf reporter -- has more about the evidence tying al-Qaeda to the assassination. But it's worth keeping the ex-intelligence official's perspective in mind when jumping to conclusions about responsibility.