Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bhutto 'blocked from hiring US bodyguards';jsessionid=IG1ZSIRJ0UOFPQFIQMGSFFOAVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2007/12/30/wbhutto230.xml

Bhutto 'blocked from hiring US bodyguards'
By Philip Sherwell in New York

Benazir Bhutto was so fearful for her life that she tried to hire British and American security experts to protect her, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

But the plans collapsed because President Pervez Musharraf refused to allow the foreign contractors to operate in Pakistan, according to senior aides.

"She asked to bring in trained security personnel from abroad," said Mark Siegel, her US representative. "In fact she and her husband repeatedly tried to get visas for such protection, but they were denied by the government of Pakistan."

Ms Bhutto's entourage discussed deals with the American Blackwater operation, this newspaper has learnt. Sources within the British private security industry said that she also had negotiations with the London-based firm Armor Group, which guards UK diplomats in the Middle East - last night the company said that it had no knowledge of any talks.

A Blackwater spokesman confirmed the negotiations. "We were approached to provide prime minister Bhutto's security, but an agreement was unfortunately never reached," she said. She declined to go into the precise details.

Ms Bhutto contacted officials, diplomats and friends in America, Europe and the Gulf to urge Gen Musharraf to improve her security following the suicide bomb attacks that killed more than 140 during her homecoming parade on Oct 19.

Indeed, US diplomats took the highly unusual step of providing her directly with confidential US intelligence about militant threats to her life.

Pakistan's interior ministry also passed on details of plots against her and aides said that letters containing death threats had been smuggled into her home.

Husain Haqqani, a US-based Bhutto adviser, confirmed that she wanted to use private international security contractors but said that the Musharraf regime would not approve the plan.

He added that America, which has arranged for private contractors to guard the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and leaders in Iraq, was reluctant to press Gen Musharraf, its ally, to change his mind. This was despite Washington seeing Ms Bhutto as a lynchpin in its crucial diplomatic attempt to encourage Pakistan to return to democracy.

Mr Siegel's comments will add to the long-running controversy over Ms Bhutto's security arrangements, which were widely regarded as woefully inadequate given the seriousness of the threats against her from al-Qaeda, the Taliban and others.

She relied largely on using a "human shield" of loyal followers who would form a ring around her, but as Thursday's attack proved, it was little real protection against a determined assailant.

Some security industry specialists have suggested, however, that there may have been other reasons why the help of foreign security firms was not enlisted.

Being surrounded by foreign bodyguards would have added to criticisms that Ms Bhutto was in the pocket of the West - an accusation levelled at President Karzai - and might not have been welcomed by her own Pakistani security staff. But the companies could have taken a back role as consultants and trained locals in bodyguard techniques to maintain a Pakistani face to her entourage.

"It's odd and disturbing that the Pakistan government did not do a better job of protecting her and that the US apparently could not do more to persuade them," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and former National Security Council director for South Asia. "She made it very clear privately and publicly that she did not have enough security. That was abundantly clear after the attack on her return.

"I can't explain why the Bush administration didn't pressure Musharraf to do more. Her death leaves the US with a Pakistan policy that is completely bankrupt."

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