Bhutto Assassination Could Have Been Prevented, says UN Report

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The Guardian/UK

Bhutto Assassination Could Have Been Prevented, says UN Report

by
Ewan MacAskill

Benazir Bhutto at the rally where she was was killed. A UN report has condemned officials for failing to protect her. (Photograph: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan's intelligence services have been condemned in a devastating report by a United Nations inquiry into the assassination three years ago of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The
report, published last night, failed to identify who was behind the
assassination but concluded that Bhutto's death could have been avoided
if proper security measures had been in place. It also claimed that the
Pakistan police lied to a Scotland Yard forensic team that was called
in to help.

However, aides to former President Pervez Musharraf angrily dismissed the report.

"There
were two assassination attempts on President Musharraf by the same
suicide squads that killed Benazir Bhutto. Are we saying that Mr
Musharraf was responsible for the assassination attempts on himself?"
said Rashid Qureshi, the former president's spokesman. "It's very
strange. There's no logic behind this."

Fawad Chaudhry,
Musharraf's lawyer, said that at the time of Bhutto's death in December
2007, Musharraf had handed over power to an interim government, which
was overseeing elections, and had also given up his position of army
chief.

"If there was any lapse, then it was the lapse of the
interim government, not the president," said Chaudhry. "That's like, in
Britain, holding the Queen responsible for someone's murder."

The
intelligence services were heavily criticised for their role in the
mishandled investigation. "The investigation was severely hampered by
intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an
unfettered search for the truth," the report said.

Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has long been controversial largely
because some senior staff have been linked to the Taliban and other
extremists.

Bhutto, who had returned earlier that year from political exile, was killed by a teenage suicide bomber in Rawalpindi in December 2007. A group linked to al-Qaida was blamed.

The
UN commission of inquiry began in July last year, headed by the Chilean
ambassador to the UN, Heraldo Muñoz, supported by Marzuki Darusman, a
former attorney-general of Indonesia, and Peter Fitzgerald, a veteran
of the Irish police.

The 70-page report, which described the
police's behaviour as "deeply flawed", concluded that Bhutto could have
been protected if adequate 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," it said.

"None of these entities
took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and
urgent security risks that they knew she faced."

The damning part
of the report rests in the UN team's claim of a cover-up. It said it
was "mystified by the efforts of certain high-ranking Pakistani
government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence
sources".

A forensic team from Scotland Yard was involved in the
investigation but the commission said its remit was narrow and it had
to take much on good faith from the Pakistan police. The commission
claimed the police had lied to Scotland Yard.

"That good faith
was, in many respects, abused by officers of the Rawalpindi district
police, particularly with respect to security arrangements. The
commission's inquiry shows the accounts of the Rawalpindi police
provided to Scotland Yard to be largely untrue."

The commission
was baffled that the Rawalpindi police hosed down the crime scene
within an hour of the murder, destroying almost all potential evidence.

The
ISI is one of the most powerful organisations in Pakistan, with a
pervasive reach. The commission found that the ISI conducted a parallel
inquiry into the killing, gathering evidence and detaining suspects.

The
commission said it believed the failure of the police to investigate
Bhutto's assassination effectively was deliberate. "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 does not
say why the ISI hampered the investigation but offers a hint: "Given
the historical and possibly continuing relationships between
intelligence agencies and some radical Islamist groups that engage in
extremist violence, the agencies could be compromised in their
investigations of crimes possibly carried out by such groups."

The
UN commission recommends reform of the police and the intelligence
services. While every country needs a strong intelligence service, "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. The actions of politicised
intelligence agencies undermine democratic governance."

The
ruling Pakistan Peoples party, which had been led by Bhutto, felt
vindicated by the findings. The PPP had complained she was not properly
protected and her assassination came from a wider conspiracy involving
the military establishment.

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