Washington, Jan.18 : Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Michael Hayden is of the view that the al-Qaeda and militant Pakistani tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud were responsible for the December 27, 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
In an interview given to the Washington Post, Hayden said Bhutto was killed by fighters allied with Mehsud, a tribal leader in northwestern Pakistan, with support from al-Qaeda's terrorist network.
In the 45-minute-long interview, he said: "What you see is, I think, a change in the character of what's going on there. You've got this nexus now that probably was always there in latency, but is now active: a nexus between al-Qaeda and various extremist and separatist groups."
It maybe recalled that days after Bhutto's assassination in Rawalpindi, Pakistani officials released intercepted communications between Mehsud and his supporters in which the tribal leader praised the killing and appeared to take credit for it.
Pakistani and U.S. officials, however, have declined to comment on the origin of that intercept.
"This was done by that network around Baitullah Mehsud. We have no reason to question that," Hayden said.
He described the killing as "part of an organized campaign" to destabilise Pakistan.
Hayden made his statement shortly before a series of attacks occurred this week on Pakistani political figures and army units. Pakistani officials have blamed them on Mehsud's forces and other militants.
In recent months, U.S. intelligence officials have said, the relationship between al-Qaeda and local insurgents has been strengthened by a common antipathy toward the pro-Western Musharraf government. The groups now share resources and training facilities and sometimes even plan attacks together, they said.
Hayden's anxieties about Pakistan's stability are echoed by other U.S. officials who have visited Pakistan since Bhutto's assassination. White House, intelligence and Defense Department officials have held a series of meetings to discuss U.S. options in the event that the current crisis deepens, including the possibility of covert action involving Special Forces.
Hayden said that the United States has "not had a better partner in the war on terrorism than the Pakistanis." The turmoil of the past few weeks has only deepened that cooperation, he said, by highlighting "what are now even more clearly mutual and common interests."