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October 18, 2019

Inside story of October 18, 2007


October 18, 2019

What three specific advices saved former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and nearly the entire central leadership of the PPP on October 18, 2007 in Karachi but ignored two months later during the fatal attack on December 27.

All three advices were included in the ‘Confidential Security Plan’ sent to her in Dubai, by her security team in consultation with senior police and intelligence officials about 10 days prior to her arrival. Here is an ‘inside story’ of a 12-year-old case which had been closed after being declared ‘blind case’.

Going through the events and case study of Oct 18th, 2007, and talking to some of those officials it was revealed that after a ‘security alert’ was issued about the possible attack on her procession in which she was the prime target; Benazir was informed about the danger. She contacted her own security team including former home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza to get in touch with Sindh police and send her the security plan.

One of the key ‘security advices’ which was even underlined by BB herself came from one of the former IGPs Afzal Shigri, regarding her ‘vulnerability’ and how she could be protected while on the truck during hours-long journey from Quaid-e-Azam International Airport to Bilawal House.

Thus, the plan was chalked out and her security team was told how to cordon the truck and from how much distance. She was also told not to expose herself too much during the procession as there were chances of sniper fire as well.

His advice was also about her whole election campaign and the most important one was regarding her security after end of every procession, rally or public meeting. He said terrorists often target when they find police, party workers and security people relaxed. Had this advice followed on December 27, 2007, perhaps Pakistan’s political history would have been different.

The first security meeting was held at the Sindh Police Headquarters, attended by her security team and senior police officials, home secretary and some intelligence officials as well.

Benazir Bhutto herself constituted the team and she remained in constant touch with the team leaders throughout and got the ‘green signal’ the day she departed from Dubai. It was decided that as soon as she arrived at the airport she would be cordoned by special squad of ‘Ja Nisaran-e-Benazir’, who were also trained for the same purpose.

It was also advised that as far as possible the truck should not be stopped and the PPP leadership should try to keep it moving. The team was also told that in case of attack where they should take her, how and in which car. A bomb-proof truck was prepared for the purpose and the team which was supposed to protect her went through proper security scrutiny.

All those present at the security meeting in police headquarters knew that it would not be easy to stop ‘suicide bombing’ but they agreed to take the maximum measures and though on that day the two suicide bombers blew themselves near Karsaz in frustration after they failed in getting near the truck due to excellent security cordon around the truck.

Immediately after the first attack she was told not to come out of the truck and it was decided to shift her as soon as security cleared her car. The cordon was doubled and although the second attacker did try to break the cordon but failed and in frustration also blew himself. Those responsible for the cordon surrounded the truck even after two attacks till she and others left.

Had the attackers succeeded in reaching near the truck the entire central leadership of the party would have been killed as happened in the public meeting at Nishtar Park in which the central leadership of Sunni Tehreek was killed in suicide attack except one.

The attackers could not hit the ‘prime target’ and the credit certainly goes to the security plan and the team which executed and though Benazir was expecting the attack, was shocked over the death of her party workers. The security team did its best and foiled attackers from hitting their main target.

Benazir was so disturbed that within hours of the attack she reached the Jinnah Hospital, next morning even without informing her security people to meet the injured workers. Later, she was advised that she should be more careful as the ‘threat alert’ is not over yet.

The first FIR was registered at Bahadurabad Police Station by the State. Two days later Benazir sent a letter to the police about her apprehension that some of her opponents including former president Pervez Musharraf, late ISI chief Gen Hameed Gul, her political rival Ch Pervaiz Elahi should be investigated and asked for registration of another FIR on her complaint.

Some senior police officers showing sympathy with the PPP, advised her not to insist on the second FIR, as it could damage her case. But later the second FIR was also registered. None of those initially named by her were questioned and her letter was considered within the police as politically-motivated and emotional reaction.

Sadly no progress was made in the investigation of Oct 18th, even during the PPP five years in government; one suspect who was arrested in the case was released as no evidence was found against him.

After the incident, Benazir called the meeting of her security team and also discussed her security with some senior police officials. She appreciated her team’s efforts and advice given by Shigri in particular.

Surprisingly, weeks later her security team was replaced and Zulfiqar Mirza and others were told to hand over the same security plan to Islamabad team after she almost survived another attempt on her life in Peshawar.

What happened on December 27, 2007 was the breach of major security lapse and ‘advice’ that the attackers could attack after the public meeting and had she been told by those responsible for her security not to leave prior to the clearance of the area and her route, who knows she could have survived.

A former senior police officer, who remained at top position during PPP government, disclosed that Benazir Bhutto was very cautious about her security and she herself kept updating the plan and changes. “She followed the advice on Oct 18th to large extent. Thus, it was surprising as why her security team was changed and why Afzal Shigri’s advice was ignored on Dec 27th”.

Both these tragedies remain unresolved mystery like many high- profile unresolved cases. The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, Jang and The News.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO