Sat, Apr 17, 2010 - Page 4 News List

UN report makes new probe likely

DUCKING THE GUN A report by a UN commission says that the investigation into former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto’s death had been severely impeded

AP , ISLAMABAD

Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto looks to her supporters on Dec. 27, 2007, during a campaign appearance in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where she was killed in a gun and suicide-bomb attack.

PHOTO: AFP

A new UN report that blames Pakistan’s security establishment for failing to stop the assassination of former Pakistani 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 yesterday.

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 eight-and-a-half years in self-imposed exile.

The three-member UN panel said her death could have been prevented if the government under former Pakistani 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 UN 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 Pakistani 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 was expected to issue a detailed reaction about the report later yesterday, but Farahnaz Ispahani, another Zardari aide, said “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-Qaeda. Officials at the US CIA 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-and-a-half-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-­Qaeda, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani establishment.”

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