Pursue the leads, Mr President

Quatrina Hosain April 19, 2010

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is not a revelation, given that most of the information has been widely disseminated in the media earlier.

But it does bring all the information together in one credible document and is a startling indictment of the actions of the Rawalpindi police both before and after the assassination, the pervasive role of the intelligence agencies and compounded blunders by everyone on that fateful day. The saddest words “her assassination could have been prevented with proper security.”

With these devastating nine words, the UN Commission has virtually held the entire security apparatus, the provincial government and the federal government headed by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf of being responsible for her death. The report does not constitute a criminal investigative report but criticises the current government for not actively investigating Ms Bhutto’s assassination. “Ms Bhutto was killed more than two years ago. A government headed by her party, the PPP, has been in office for most of that time, and it only began the further investigation, a renewal of the stalled official investigation, in October 2009. This is surprising to the Commission.” We are equally surprised.

Two years after Ms Bhutto’s death, we are still in the dark about who planned, financed and facilitated a lone gunman doubling up as a suicide bomber at Liaquat Bagh. And we, the people, have the right to know. Why has the PPP government been so complacent about aggressively facilitating a criminal investigation? The party’s mantra that it doesn’t want to be accused of political victimisation rings hollow.

After the report was issued, President Asif Ali Zardari said he and his party were not seeking revenge. He also said “we are looking to punish those who need to be punished”. And the time for that, Mr President, starts now. Your loss is deep and personal. But Bhutto belonged to all Pakistanis and the nation will stand by whoever brings her killers to justice.

The UN report reaches no conclusions but makes it clear the Rawalpindi police, particularly CPO Saud Aziz and intelligence agencies have a lot to answer for. From hosing down the crime scene, allowing evidence tampering in Ms Bhutto’s car after she died, preventing the autopsy, hampering the investigation and failing to preserve evidence, the police and intelligence agencies compounded incompetence with deviousness.

And Mr Aziz was not acting alone but was communicating constantly with intelligence agencies, concludes the Commission. The UN Commission pays homage to PPP workers who died alongside their leader, but sharply rebukes senior party leaders for leaving Liaquat Bagh in the bullet-proof Mercedes vehicle that was supposed to be Ms Bhutto’s back-up vehicle, describing this as “a serious security lapse”. It said that she was “left vulnerable in a severely damaged vehicle that was unable to transport her to the hospital".

While reading the UN Commission report, I remember proof-reading and subbing the official report of the circumstances leading up to the plane crash that killed General Ziaul Haq in August 1988. More than 20 years after his death, that inconclusive report was the first and last officially released document into General Zia’s death. And 20 years down the road, we may still be asking who killed Benazir Bhutto. And that will not be justice.

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