UNITED NATIONS - A scathing UN report blamed the military government of then-President Pervez Musharraf for failing to protect former prime minister Benazir Bhutto after which law enforcement officials deliberately botched investigations into her murder.
Bhutto was killed in a suicide gun and bombing attack after a campaign rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007. Another 24 people died and 91 were injured in one of the world's most high-profile assassinations that resulted in riots throughout Pakistan.
She had returned home after eight years of exile, distrusted by many in the military and its intelligence services and scorned by Islamic militants. The United States and Britain had helped facilitate her return, advocating a power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf.
Mincing no words the report said:
Ms Bhutto's assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken. The 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.
The (UN) Commission finds that the security plan was flawed as it placed inadequate focus on Ms Bhutto's protection and concentrated more on the deployment of police for crowd control. Furthermore, it was not implemented properly. Video footage and photographs examined by the Commission raised questions as to the number of police officers deployed.
15-year old bomber did not act alone
The 65-page report did not investigate who killed Ms Bhutto and said that was the job of Pakistani authorities. But it said "no one believes" that the 15 year-old suicide bomber, who detonated explosives near her vehicle, acted alone:
A range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms Bhutto and second to investigate with vigor all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack, but also in its conception, planning and financing.
The report by a three-member commission, headed by Chile's UN ambassador, Heraldo Muñoz, is bound to be contested by some authorities in Pakistan. The government is now headed by Bhutto's widower, President Asif Ali Zardari. He requested the UN probe 18 months after her assassination and then asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to delay its release, saying more people had to be interviewed. Ban held off the report for two weeks, until Wednesday, but the investigation was not reopened.
Muñoz, a highly respected UN ambassador, at a news conference, dismissed conspiracy theories that Zardari had a hand in his wife's death, saying they "simply had no basis." Instead he emphasized that impunity in cases of political killings was the norm in Pakistan and people did not expect perpetrators, aside from those at the lowest level, to be prosecuted.
Among the most critical sections is the work of the Rawalpindi District Police, which "inflicted irreparable damage" by hosing down the crime scene shortly after the assassination, collecting only 23 pieces of evidence when there should have been thousands and failing to order an autopsy.
ISI intelligence agency interfered
The report spared no one - not even the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which was present during initial investigations and "selectively" shared information with police:
The (UN) Commission believes that the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms Bhutto's assassination were, in most cases, deliberate. In other cases, the failures were driven by uncertainty in the minds of many officials as to the extent of the involvement of intelligence agencies. These officials, in part fearing involvement by the intelligence agencies, were unsure of how vigorously they ought to pursue actions that they knew, as professionals, they should have taken.
Interior minister Rehman Malik was chastised for leaving the scene immediately after the attack, allowing Bhutto's damaged vehicle to become isolated. He was in a car with leaders of her party, whose own security arrangements the report said were inadequate and disorganized.
Muñoz said he was especially annoyed that the Interior Ministry, though its spokesman, announced the cause of death and who was responsible for the attack on Dec. 28, only a day after the murder.
Pakistani authorities had arrested five Islamic militants they accused of involvement in Bhutto's assassination. But the Zardari government, elected in February 2008, stopped the trial, saying it wanted to investigate the issue again.
Muñoz, who has written extensively on the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, said he, personally, would have like to see a "truth commission" on the assassination. But he told reporters he did not explore the idea with government officials, although some civil society groups were in favor.
Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan Times)