UN report on Bhutto murder finds Pakistani officials ‘failed profoundly’
Security arrangements by Pakistan’s federal and local authorities to protect assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were “fatally insufficient and ineffective” and subsequent investigations into her death were prejudiced and involved a whitewash, an independent United Nations inquiry reported today.
The UN Commission of Inquiry, appointed last year by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the request of the Pakistani Government, reached no conclusion as to the organizers and sponsors behind the attack in which a 15-year-old suicide bomber blew up Ms. Bhutto’s vehicle in the city of Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007.
But it found that the Government was quick to blame local Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and Al-Qaida although Ms. Bhutto’s foes potentially included elements from the establishment itself.
“A range of Government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms. Bhutto and second to investigate with vigour all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack, but also in its conception, planning and financing,” the Commission said.
“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. None of these entities took necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.”
General Pervez Musharraf was president at the time of the suicide bombing in Rawalpindi. The report said the then federal Government lacked a comprehensive security plan, relying instead on provincial authorities, but then failed to issue to them the necessary instructions.
“Particularly inexcusable was the Government’s failure to direct provincial authorities to provide Ms. Bhutto the same stringent and specific security measures it ordered on 22 October 2007 for two other former prime ministers who belonged to the main political party supporting General Musharraf,” it stated.
“This discriminatory treatment is profoundly troubling given the devastating attempt on her life only three days earlier and the specific threats against her which were being tracked by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency),” it added, stressing that her assassination could have been prevented if the Rawalpindi District Police had taken adequate security measures.
Turning to the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Commission found that police actions and omissions, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation.
“The collection of 23 pieces of evidence was manifestly inadequate in a case that should have resulted in thousands,” it said. “The one instance in which the authorities reviewed these actions, the Punjab (provincial) committee of inquiry into the hosing down of the crime scene was a whitewash. Hosing down the crime scene so soon after the blast goes beyond mere incompetence; it is up to the relevant authorities to determine whether this amounts to criminal responsibility.”
It also found that City Police Officer Saud Aziz impeded investigators from conducting on-site investigations until two full days after the assassination and that the Government’s assertions that Mr. Mehsud and Al-Qaida were responsible were made well before any proper investigation had started, pre-empting, prejudicing and hindering the subsequent investigation.
“Ms. Bhutto faced serious threats in Pakistan from a number of sources,” the Commission said. “These included Al-Qaida, the Taliban and local jihadi groups, and potentially from elements in the Pakistani establishment. Notwithstanding these threats, the investigation into her assassination focused on pursuing lower-level operatives allegedly linked to Baitullah Mehsud.”
It stressed that investigators dismissed the possibility of involvement by elements of the Pakistani establishment, including the three persons identified by Ms. Bhutto as threats to her in her 16 October 2007 letter to General Musharraf. It also noted that investigations were severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other Government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth.
“The Commission believes that the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms. Bhutto’s assassination were, in most cases, deliberate,” it declared.
The three-member panel, which was headed by Chilean Ambassador to UN Heraldo Muñoz and included Marzuki Darusman, former attorney-general of Indonesia, and Peter Fitzgerald, a veteran official of the Irish National Police, urged the Government to undertake police reform in view of its “deeply flawed performance and conduct.”
It also recommended the establishment of a fully independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate political killings, disappearances and terrorism in Pakistan in recent years in view of the backdrop of a history of political violence carried out with impunity.
Ms. Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is the current Pakistani President.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban commended the commissioners and their staff for completing their challenging nine-and-a-half month-long task “expeditiously and in a professional manner.”
In a later news conference today, Mr. Muñoz stressed that the Commission interviewed more than 250 interviews with Pakistanis and others both inside and outside Pakistan, reviewed hundreds of documents, videos, photographs and other documentary material provided by federal and provincial authorities in Pakistan and others.
In the report, the Commission said it was “by the efforts of certain high-ranking Pakistani Government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources” but during an extension of its mandate until 31 March it was able eventually to meet with some past and present members of the Pakistani military and intelligence services.