A United Nations report into the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto almost three years ago has concluded that her death could have been prevented "if adequate security measures had been taken."
While the report, which was released Thursday night, does not name Mrs. Bhutto's killers, it notes that the government of former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf failed to provide adequate security despite specific intelligence related to an assassination attempt six days prior to her murder. The report is more critical of the role of Pakistan's shadowy intelligence agencies, including the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which it says "hampered" the UN investigation and failed to share its own findings with civilian law-enforcement agencies.
No startling revelations
The commission's findings contain no startling revelations to most Pakistanis, according to Cyril Almeida, a columnist for the Dawn, a leading English-language daily newspaper in Pakistan. Instead it "points in the obvious direction we've known for a long time."
Still, it is being lauded by top leaders of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which Bhutto led. "This is important because it brings the weight of the commission which has to be accountable for its findings. Earlier, it was still thought to be speculation," says Sherry Rehman, a member of parliament for the PPP and a former close aide of Bhutto.
Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Bhutto's widower President Asif Ali Zardari, indicated on Friday that the report could pave the way for "penal proceedings."
Major Gen. Rashid Qureshi, General Musharraf's former spokesman, branded the inquiry a "pack of lies" in comments made to the BBC. "The report makes absurd statements. The inquiry was not well conducted," he said.
Conspiracy theories persist
Bhutto was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2007 by a 15-year-old suicide bomber during a political rally in Rawalpindi. Just days before, she had returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile to contest elections as the country prepared for a return to democracy after eight years of military rule.
Her death was followed by widespread rioting and a protracted period of national mourning. While Musharraf’s government named the mastermind of the attack as Baitullah Mehsud, the former Pakistani Taliban leader who was killed in a US drone attack last year, numerous conspiracy theories continue to circulate blaming Musharraf, the ISI, the United States, and President Zardari.
The allegation that Zardari was involved was denied by the Commision’s head, Chilean ambassador Heraldo Munoz, at a press conference at the United Nations Thursday night. He instead criticized former Pakistani officials for failing to conduct an autopsy and for evidence lost. The crime scene was hosed down within minutes of the assassination – a decision which the report indicates may have come from an authority higher than Rawalpindi’s chief of police.
The report alludes to the Pakistani intelligence agencies’ ties to militant groups as a possible reason for the impeded investigation. "Given the historical and possibly continuing relationships between intelligence agencies and some radical Islamist groups that engage in extremist violence, the agencies could be compromised in their investigations of crimes possibly carried out by such groups," stated the UN report.
More investigation needed
The report urges the current Pakistan government to investigate the killing more thoroughly and end impunity for political killings by setting up a “truth and reconciliation” commission to investigate political killings, disappearances, and terrorism.
Mr. Almeida, the Dawn columnist, says it is still unclear whether the PPP will be able to use the report to open investigations into key military and intelligence figures named in the report.
“What the report does not do is refer to the staggering reluctance on the part of the PPP to use to levers of the state to find the real killers,” he says. “Maybe there was a feeling that probing too aggressively could upset certain delicate balances that had been struck.”
For many ordinary Pakistanis, the mystery continues. Azhar Siddique, a lawyer and PPP activist based in Lahore, says, “This report is silent about who has murdered Benazir. We’re still no closer to holding anyone accountable.”