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Updated: April 17, 2010 02:22 IST

Benazir death preventable, investigation failures deliberate: UN

Narayan Lakshman
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In this Dec. 27, 2007 file photo, Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto waves to her supporters in Rawalpindi. A U.N. panel has said that her assassination could have been prevented. Photo: AP
In this Dec. 27, 2007 file photo, Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto waves to her supporters in Rawalpindi. A U.N. panel has said that her assassination could have been prevented. Photo: AP

The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was preventable and the failures of the investigation into her killing were deliberate, according to a long-awaited report by a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the matter.

The 70-page report, released on Thursday said “The responsibility for Ms. Bhutto’s security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police.” However none of these entities took the necessary measures to respond to the “extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced,” the report said.

Ms. Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007 as she was leaving a campaign event at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi; 24 other people were killed as well and 91 injured.

In a damning indictment of the police and intelligence authorities charged with investigating the assassination the UN report said that the Rawalpindi district police’s actions and omissions in the immediate aftermath of the event, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, “inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation.”

Further the Commission complained of authorities’ obstruction of its own investigation, saying, “The Commission was mystified by the efforts of certain high- ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources, as revealed in their public declarations.”

The report also said blame for the failure to protect Ms. Bhutto must be laid squarely on the federal Government under Pervez Musharraf which, the Commission argued, was “fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, [yet] did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats.”

This was an “especially grave failure” given that there had been an attempt on her life in Karachi when she returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, the report said.

Speaking to The Hindu, Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, at the Brookings Institution, said, “It is clear from the report that Gen Musharraf did not intend to provide protection to Ms. Bhutto.” Mr. Riedel, a former CIA officer, added, “I have been in Islamabad when they have wanted to put in place adequate arrangements and they are very much capable of doing that. In this case it appears they did not want to put such security measures in place.”

Unsurprisingly Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence did not escape the indictment of the UN Commission either: “The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth… The ISI conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects,” the report said. It also pointed out that the evidence gathered from these parallel investigations was only selectively shared with the police.

In conclusion the report said that it remained the responsibility of the Pakistani authorities to carry out a “serious, credible criminal investigation that determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and brings those responsible to justice.”

In terms of what impact the report’s “devastating” statements may have in Pakistan’s polity Mr. Riedel said “I suspect that the investigation of the actual assassins has gone so cold that it would be very hard to find them.”

He added that an important question was whether the Musharaf regime would face consequences including Ashfaq Kayani, the erstwhile head of ISI and currently Chief of Army Staff. “There may be questions about what he did as director-general of ISI in response to information that terrorists were stalking Ms. Bhutto,” Mr. Riedel said.

While the UN Commission report was due to be published on March 30, it was delayed by two weeks, reportedly upon the request of the Pakistani authorities.

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