Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Benazir Bhutto, back in Pakistan following eight years in exile with plans to tour the country seeking voter support, is holed up in Karachi after the near-miss attempt on her life. The government has declined to provide her minimal security against renewed assassination attempts on the former prime minister. That points up the shadowy new partnership between Bhutto and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, re-elected president of Pakistan by the electoral college on Oct. 6.

Arbab Rahim, chief minister of Sindh province (that includes Karachi), has refused Bhutto special police protection, tinted auto windows and bomb-jamming equipment. Bhutto for weeks was denied jammers against IEDs and additional armor on her vehicles. But a telephone call from the Pakistani president to Rahim, one of his lieutenants, surely could have given Bhutto the protection she desired.

So, who wants to kill Benazir Bhutto? Not Musharraf, who is astute enough to know his complicity in her death would be devastating for him. Yet he has not been forthcoming in investigating the Oct. 18 bombing in Karachi or preventing its recurrence. That provides a dilemma for President George W. Bush. While his administration depicts the enigmatic Musharraf as a faithful fighter against terrorism, it recognizes that Bhutto as prime minister would be unequivocally against Islamic extremism.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who do not want Bhutto to lead Pakistan's government a third time, are behind the suicide bombing but do not appear to have acted alone. In addition to the bombing that took at least 136 lives, it is unpublicized that snipers fired on her convoy. Not al Qaeda's style, that points to Pakistan's ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), or at least rogue elements within it. Musharraf, though still military commander, does not exercise complete control over ISI (which is considered a state within a state and gave birth to the Taliban in Afghanistan).

It is difficult to identify attempted assassins because Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said he would "categorically reject" help from world-class FBI forensic investigators. Sherpao once was a leader of Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) but changed sides in return for being absolved of Musharraf's criminal charges. More than 10 days after the bombing, it is too late for forensic evidence.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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