I would like to disabuse us of the notion that Musharraf was behind Benazir’s assassination. He was not, nor was the government or the military proper. Nor, I would say, was any major (or minor) political rival involved. The question of rogue elements in the military, now that’s a different question.
The blame falls squarely on the terrorists.
Now, this is a very sobering point. Benazir was assassinated in the “garden” named after Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan first prime minister, who was assassinated there. (It was named after him after his assassination.) Furthermore, this occurred in the military headquarters of Rawalpindi. This was the second-choice location for Benazir’s rally because Musharraf nixed the first-choice location (I forgot what it was) over security concerns. All of these coincidences have sparked vicious rumors that Musharraf or the military must have been behind the attempt.
But what people forget is that while the military can be said to control Pakistan, it does not control all of it. Remember that routinely, bombs, missiles, and other nasty things have been found not even a mile from the complex of government buildings in Islamabad (in which complex are the Parliament, Supreme Court, President’s House, Prime Minister’s Secretariat). The terrorists have a very long reach. We don’t hear as much about assassination attempts on Musharraf because none of them have succeeded, the military tries its best to intercept such attempts, and they happen all the time so they’re no big news.
Furthermore, whereas Islamabad is neatly laid out and accessable by security forces, Rawalpindi is an older, sprawling city. It is the military headquarters in that that is where the military has its central buildings and personnel, but not in the sense that it is a military installation. As such, the military does not control Rawalpindi even though it exerts substantial influence therein.
Now, also consider that Benazir is not a high-level member of the military or of the government. It is unreasonable to suppose that the military would do for Benazir what it does for Musharraf. As a civilian politician, she got what they could give her. And so the argument we may hear that the government did not do enough is utterly misleading. The government has no obligation to provide for her the security details and measures it does for active heads of government and state.
Now, some people say that Musharraf may have been behind this to upset Pakistan’s forward movement to democracy, since such would undermine him. This is not true. I will not reveal how I know, but I do know that Musharraf has always been committed to bringing civilian rule back into Pakistan. The fact this targetted Benazir, with whom Musharraf had warm relations, and not Nawaz Sharif (who, in his own way, conspired to kill Musharraf) shows that this could not have been Musharraf’s doing. Furthermore, Musharraf needed Benazir’s support and political involvement in order to secure the legitimization of him and whatever Pakistani government may come into existence. Additionally, Benazir could have galvanized the country behind an effective and expansive counter-terrorism effort, which would have been crucial for Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Indeed, her assassination was a huge blow for Musharraf.
Musharraf’s goal for civilian rule (or, at least, involvement) can be discerned by the fact that right when he could have disrupted the entire process, he did not. Many were expecting Musharraf or his puppet government to cancel the upcoming elections in January, but he did not. If this was all a ploy for power, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, or dictatorship, where are his actions accordingly?
Now, who had the most to lose from Benazir’s third term? Not Musharraf: Benazir as prime minister would have been a huge boon for him. Not the military: Benazir’s promotion of counter- and anti-terrorism would have greatly empowered the military. Not other politicians: her third term would open the door for more involvement and autonomy in the political scene. The Islamists would have been greatly affected and in a bad way. See, Benazir is a secularist. She opposes the Islamists. That is why she returned. She also knew she could bridge the gap between the pro-Musharraf military regime and the anti-Musharraf political machines.
For some time, the Islamists had made known their staunch opposition to Benazir. Whereas Musharraf had to walk a fine line between eradicating terrorism and securing an internal consensus, Benazir had no qualms about opposing, to whatever degree she felt necessary, the Islamists. Whereas Musharraf had to deal with reality on the ground, whether his troops could actually control an area or push out Islamists therein, Benazir was free to use whatever political tools at her disposal to oppose the Islamists and campaign for their reduction if not elimination. The deals before struck by the military government would not have been countenanced by a Benazir-led government.
Of course, considering that Benazir had far more clout and popularity with the people than Musharraf, it becomes clear, considering all of these points, whom Benazir threatened most and why they would conspire to take her down.