NEWS & OPINION: More mystery around Bhutto assasssination; Army in retreat; clampdown on the press

Mysterious crowd suddenly stopped Bhutto’s car, officer says

Two new reports on the assassination last month of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto suggest that the killing may have been an ambitious plot rather than an isolated act of violence and that the government of President Pervez Musharraf knows far more than it’s admitted about the murder.

A police officer who witnessed the assassination said that a mysterious crowd stopped Bhutto’s car that day, moving her to emerge through the sunroof. And a document has surfaced in the Pakistani news media that contradicts the government’s version of her death and contains details on the pistol and the suicide bomb used in the murder.

The witness was Ishtiaq Hussain Shah of the Rawalpindi police. As Bhutto’s car headed onto Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Road after an election rally Dec. 27, a crowd appeared from nowhere and stopped the motorcade, shouting slogans of her Pakistan Peoples Party and waving party banners, according to his account. [complete article]

Angry Pakistanis turn against army

It is the most expensive – and talked about – property development in Pakistan, but few can get near it. Hidden behind barbed wire, the new state-of-the-art army headquarter to replace a garrison in Rawalpindi is costing a reputed £1 billion and will cover 2,400 acres of prime land in Islamabad, including lakes, a residential complex, schools and clinics.

Originally intended to represent the best of Pakistan, the new army HQ is now being seen as a symbol of all that is wrong with the country.

Amid nationwide anger over the killing of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and a widespread belief that the country’s military or intelligence may have been involved, the population is turning against the army for the first time. [complete article]

U.S. journalist is ordered to leave Pakistan

An American freelance journalist and scholar based in Pakistan was ordered to leave the country this week after writing an article that might have been deemed unflattering to the Pakistani government, according to friends, colleagues and a U.S.-based media rights group.

Nicholas Schmidle, a frequent contributor to Slate magazine and a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington, was served with a deportation notice at his Islamabad home Tuesday night and left Pakistan on Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. [complete article]

American journalist Nicholas Schmidle deported from Pakistan

Other journalists I have spoken to today tell me that there is a pattern of intimidation of journalists clearly emerging in Pakistan. While this may be the first deportation of an American journalist that most can recall, there have been other troubling incidents.

New America Foundation fellow and journalist Eliza Griswold was apparently held in custody by Pakistan authorities on one occasion. CNN Terrorism Analyst and New America Foundation senior fellow Peter Bergen was denied a visa on one occasion in 2006 with no explanation given. Nir Rosen — also a New America Foundation fellow who has reported extensively on Middle East affairs — was threatened in Quetta, Pakistan by what some believe to be government “goons” and was told that he needed to leave immediately or he would be “the next Danny Pearl.” New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall was beaten by thugs who identified themselves as Pakistani police.

Some believe that Schmidle’s article antogonized Pakistani government officials because he conducted interviews in Quetta where the Taliban are operating in full public. These sources suggest that Pakistan government authorities want to limit exposure to the fact that they have done nothing to shut down the Taliban in Quetta and/or are turning a blind eye to the Taliban’s operations theres. [complete article]

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