UN blames Musharraf government for Bhutto murder (Second Lead)

Friday, April 16, 2010

UNITED NATIONS - A UN commission has blamed Pakistani authorities for their failure to protect Benazir Bhutto, saying security arrangements were “fatally insufficient and ineffective” and subsequent investigations into her death involved a whitewash.

In its devastating report, the three-member panel headed by Chilean Ambassador to UN Heraldo Muñoz, reached no conclusion as to the organisers and sponsors behind the attack in which a 15-year-old suicide bomber blew up the former Pakistan premier Bhutto’s vehicle in Rawalpindi Dec 27, 2007.

But the 65-page report released Thursday notes then Pakistan president Gen Pervez Musharraf’s government was quick to blame local Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and Al Qaeda although Bhutto’s foes potentially included elements from the establishment itself.

“A range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect 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 panel said.

“Responsibility for 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.”

The then federal government headed by Musharraf lacked a comprehensive security plan, relying instead on provincial authorities, but then failed to issue to them the necessary instructions, it said.

“Particularly inexcusable was the government’s failure to direct provincial authorities to provide 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).”

Bhotto’s assassination could have been prevented if the Rawalpindi district police had taken adequate security measures, it added.

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.

“Bhutto faced serious threats in Pakistan from a number of sources,” the commission said.

“These included Al Qaeda, 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 people identified by Bhutto as threats to her in her Oct 16, 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 Bhutto’s assassination were, in most cases, deliberate,” it declared.

The UN panel took up the investigation July 1, 2009 at the request of the new Pakistan government after Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari became president.

The report was originally scheduled to be presented March 30 but Zardari asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to delay the release to include inputs from former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Saudi Arabia. The commission responded saying its probe had been completed.

Filed under: Terrorism

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