The United Nations finally released the much anticipated Report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto yesterday, and delivered a blistering indictment of Gen. Musharraf and the establishment under his regime. The inescapable conclusion is that Gen. Musharraf and the political establishment of his regime facilitated the murder of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto either through direct conspiracy with the attackers or by refusing to provide her security, in effect knowingly facilitating the attack that took her life.
Some people will read the report and say that there is nothing new – that the UN report does not point any fingers. But this is a misunderstanding of how the process works at such a high diplomatic level as the United Nations.
The report was never intended to replace a trial and conviction. That would need to come as the result of a proper legal trial in a Pakistani court. The report makes this clear in multiple places:
It remains 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.
It is essential that the perpetrators of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto be brought to justice. The Pakistani authorities should ensure that the further investigation into the assassination of Ms Bhutto is fully empowered and resourced and is conducted expeditiously and comprehensively, at all levels, without hindrance.
A determination of criminal responsibility for planning, organizing, funding, supporting and carrying out the assassination can only be made by the competent authorities of Pakistan. This Commission has neither the authority nor the means to reach such conclusions. Indeed, if it were to do so, it could jeopardize future prosecutions or make it difficult for future accused persons to receive fair trials.
What the UN report provides is similar to an official inquiry or committal procedure that gathers and examines the evidence to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a charge and commit someone to trial. The conclusion of the report is clear: General Musharraf and the political establishment of his government – at a minimum – willfully and knowingly let Benazir Bhutto be murdered.
The report reached the following conclusions:
1. “Ms Bhutto’s assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken.”
2. “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 the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.”
3. “While she died when a 15 and a half year-old suicide bomber detonated his explosives near her vehicle, no one believes that this boy acted alone.”
4. “The Commission believes that the failure of the police to investigate effectively Ms Bhutto’s assassination was deliberate.”
After reading the entire report, it is impossible to believe that the report does not openly condemn Gen. Musharraf and some elements of the intelligence agencies under his control. The terms “whitewash” and “cover up” are used explicitly to refer to actions taken by the authorities.
The report further goes on to describe the press conference, which was the decision made by General Musharraf, during a meeting on the morning of 28 December at a facility in General Headquarters “prejudiced the investigation and eroded public confidence.” This could be called a smokescreen meant to confuse and draw attention away from those actually responsible.
The report also puts to rest conspiracy theories which have persisted. But the report is very clear that there is no evidence for these.
These include other governments and Bhutto family members, close associates and security aides. The majority of these hypotheses do not assert any basis in evidence, with some seeking to do no more than name persons believed to have benefited in some way from Ms Bhutto’s death, including those closest to her. The stubborn persistence of these hypotheses is attributable almost entirely to the abject failure of the government authorities at the time to carry out an investigation with vigour and integrity.
Zardari in particular is vindicated by the report, which disproves conspiracy theories about his declining an autopsy for his wife. In fact, the report goes further than only disproving this conspiracy, describing the situation as a plot against Zardari.
“CPO Saud Aziz placed Mr Zardari in an impossible situation – one which almost compelled Mr Zardari to refuse the request for an autopsy.”
“The subsequent letter by the IGP, Punjab reiterating the misleading summary of events set out in CPO Saud Aziz’s letter reflects the willingness of his administrative superior to further this shift of responsibility and perpetrate a cover-up of the true reason behind the lack of a post-mortem examination.”
Political opponents of the PPP will almost assuredly try to place some blame on PPP for not providing good enough security for Bhutto themselves. But this is also a distraction from the truth. Actually, the UN report clearly says,
The PPP is a political party, not a security agency. The responsibility for Ms Bhutto’s security rested with the government.
The UN report is open to the public, and its conclusions are clear for those who have the courage to read them. Now that we have this evidence before us – and the before the world – we must take the only logical step and issue arrest warrants for those responsible. There must be a full and legitimate criminal investigation and trial, and the murderers of Benazir Bhutto must face justice.