Pakistani official says new police probe likely following UN report on Bhutto’s assassination

By Munir Ahmed, AP
Friday, April 16, 2010

Pakistan: New probe likely after UN Bhutto report

ISLAMABAD — A new U.N. report that blames Pakistan’s security establishment for failing to stop the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto paves the way for a “proper police investigation” into her killing, an aide to her widower — now the country’s president — said Friday.

Bhutto was killed in a Dec. 27, 2007, gun and suicide-bomb attack as she was leaving a rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, where she was campaigning to return her Pakistan People’s Party to power in parliamentary elections. There had previously been an attempt on her life when she returned to Pakistan 10 weeks earlier after 8 1/2 years in self-imposed exile.

The three-member U.N. panel said her death could have been prevented if the government under then-President Pervez Musharraf, the Punjab province government, and the Rawalpindi District Police had taken adequate measures “to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.”

It also found that the investigation into her death was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, “which impeded an unfettered search for the truth.”

Chile’s U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz, who chaired the three-member commission, told a news conference that “we don’t make a judgment” on whether the failure to provide adequate security was deliberate.

The report was hailed by Pakistani officials, including aides to President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the report backed up the People’s Party’s belief that Musharraf or his allies were responsible for Bhutto’s death.

The government is expected to issue a detailed reaction about the report later Friday, but Farahnaz Ispahani, another Zardari aide, told The Associated Press that “the report will pave the way for a proper police investigation and possible penal proceedings.”

Musharraf’s government blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant commander with reported links to al-Qaida. Officials at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also said Mehsud was the chief suspect.

The commission said Musharraf’s government, though fully aware and tracking threats against Bhutto, did little more than pass them on to her and to provincial authorities and did not take action to neutralize them or ensure “that the security provided was commensurate with the threats.”

Bhutto’s party provided extra security, but the arrangements “lacked leadership and were inadequate and poorly executed,” it said.

“The Rawalpindi District Police’s actions and omissions in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Ms. Bhutto, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation,” the commission said. The decision to not conduct an autopsy made it impossible to determine a precise cause of death, it said.

It said the investigation “lacked direction, was ineffective and suffered from a lack of commitment to identify and bring all of the perpetrators to justice.”

While Bhutto was killed by a 15 1/2-year-old suicide bomber, “no one believes that this boy acted alone,” it said.

“Ms. Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources,” the commission said. “These included al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani establishment.”

But it said the investigation focused on pursuing “lower level operatives,” not those further up the hierarchy.

The commission said Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence which was only selectively shared with the police.

“The commission believes that the failure of the police to investigate effectively Ms. Bhutto’s assassination was deliberate,” the report said. “These officials, in part fearing intelligence agencies’ involvement, were unsure of how vigorously they ought to pursue actions, which they knew, as professionals, they should have taken.”

The commission urged 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.”

“Doing so would constitute a major step toward ending impunity for political crimes in this country,” it said.

To address the broader issue of impunity for political crimes, the commission called for Pakistan to consider establishing a “fully independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate political killings, disappearances and terrorism in recent years” and provide victims with “material and moral reparations.”

The commission said “the autonomy, pervasive reach and clandestine role of intelligence agencies in Pakistani life underlie many of the problems, omissions and commissions set out in this report.”

It urged the government to conduct a thorough review of intelligence agencies “based on international best practices” and reform the police to ensure “democratic policing” and protection of individual human rights.

The U.N. secretary-general agreed to appoint a commission to assist Pakistan by determining the facts and circumstances of Bhutto’s death and it began work on July 1, 2009, conducting more than 250 interviews and reviewing hundreds of documents, videos, photographs and documentary material.

Under terms agreed to by the U.N. and the Pakistani government, Pakistani authorities would determine any criminal responsibility.

Associated Press Writers Edith M. Lederer in New York and Chris Brummitt in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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