Plea on Benazir report raises brows

Anita Joshua

Premier Giliani's intervention fails to clear the air

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's “urgent request'' to United Nations Secretary-General to delay submission of the report on the facts and circumstances of the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has left the nation wondering and the government scrambling for an explanation.

Faced with a flurry of questions in the National Assembly on Wednesday as the country woke up to the delay instead of the details of the much-awaited U. N. report — which was to be presented on Tueday night — Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani asked members to be patient. “Let the concerned person come, he will reply,'' he said; pointing out that only Interior Minister Rehman Malik — presently busy with his duties as minister-in-waiting for the visiting Turkish President — would be able to explain.

“When this House and the provincial assemblies had unanimously decided that the United Nations should probe this matter, how can we cause a delay. BB [Benazir Bhutto] is our leader and she sacrificed her life for democracy and the people of Pakistan,'' he said.

This intervention by Mr. Gilani, however, failed to clear the air. As Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Ayaz Amir put it: “The common suspicion now is that there is something in the report that is not to their liking. The government must explain the delay. Or, suspicions are bound to arise.''

What is perturbing most people — politicians and commoners alike — is that Mr. Zardari and his government should have pushed for a speedy probe since they had been “avoiding a local investigation on the pretext that an independent enquiry is on''. Instead, the President is understood to have side-stepped the Foreign Office and directly contacted the U. N. Secretary-General.


And, no one is particularly buying the government's line that it wants the U.N. Commission of Enquiry to include the inputs of the three unnamed heads of government who had warned “Mohtarma'' (Benazir Bhutto) about the threat to her life. “If they haven't come forward and provided their inputs till now, it is unlikely they will do so in the next fortnight,'' said PML(N) legislator Ahsan Iqbal.

Within the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) also, there is a sense of unease. This latest turn of events has become another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that most PPP leaders and workers are trying to figure out; the others being the fact that no proper First Information Report was lodged on the assassination, no post-mortem was conducted on ``BB'', and the crime scene was washed within hours.

Naheed Khan, a close aide of “Mohtarma'' and an eye-witness to the assassination, said the government should explain as there was growing concern among the people over the delay in finding the assassins.

While the U. N. report would not have fixed criminal responsibility given its limited mandate, she said people were hoping that it would provide some leads.

So much expectation had been pinned on this report that this development has made people like Mushahid Hussain, secretary-general of PML (Quaid-e-Azam), wonder if this was part of a cover-up by a government that came to power and is ruling in the name of Benazir Bhutto.