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July 7, 2009 / jeni

Who Really Killed the French Engineers?

Thanks to Regular Commenter Kiers for directing us to this story last week. What do we think — does this theory make any sense? From The Hindu:

The French daily Liberation on Thursday published a four-page report further strengthening the hypothesis that 11 French engineers killed in a bomb blast in Karachi in 2002 died not at the hands of Islamist terrorists as initially alleged, but in an attack ordered by Pakistan’s military top brass in retaliation for non-payment of kickbacks in a 1994 contract for the sale of Agosta 90B submarines by France to Pakistan.

A percentage of the commissions promised to senior Pakistani naval officers was to be repatriated to France as “retro-commissions” or reverse kickbacks to finance the 1995 presidential bid of the then Prime Minister, Eduard Balladur. Mr. Chirac won the election and had the commissions, and, as a consequence, his rival’s retro-commissions, immediately blocked. Investigators last week said this may have angered Pakistani officials who felt the French state had failed to keep its promises.

Time also reports:

The authorities suspect that members of Pakistan’s overlapping military, intelligence and political circles decided to settle their score by symbolically targeting the French submarine engineers tied to the contract. Then they allegedly manipulated extremists whom Pakistan has long been accused of supporting to carry out the attack in order to maintain plausible deniability.

I don’t think the question is whether certain Pakistani officials could have made this happen. The question is: why? What would they gain? Time says:

Skeptics ask what Pakistani officials would gain by killing the French workers. They still wouldn’t get their money, since France presumably wouldn’t be bullied into paying up in response to such an outrageous attack. French officials say the logic of the attack would have been similar to Mafia hits on outstanding debtors: to make an example of someone deemed unlikely to pay up, and thereby send a message that others will understand while officially being able to point the finger at another culprit.

I’m not sure about this. Do countries try to welch on dodgy kickbacks to Pakistan so often that a message needs to be sent? Especially such a dramatic one — at the time, this was the largest number of Westerners killed in a single attack in Pakistan. Also, does it make sense to attempt plausible deniability when the alternative culprit put forward is so extremely plausible? Doesn’t this negate the message completely?

We have seen all kinds of actors use terrorists and insurgents as cover for violence perpetrated for other reasons, so I’m not dismissing the theory out of hand. I’m just not sure the motivation makes sense. Of course, that’s never stopped anyone before…


One Comment

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  1. Mark Galeotti / Jul 7 2009 22:11

    I’ve got to be honest: much as I enjoy a nice, juicy conspiracy theory as much as the next wonk, I find this one a little too far-fetched. Beyond all the very cogent counter-arguments you’ve advanced, there’s also the one that next to the Israelis, the French have perhaps the most bloodthirsty record in dealing with those who mess with them. When there are such messages to be sent, you tend to pick a relatively soft target…

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