Report of the UN commission on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination: General Musharraf and the ISI indicted

ہیرالڈو مونوز، عبداللہ حسین ہارون، بان کی مون اور مارزوکی داروسمان

Commentary/summary by Abdul Nishapuri

The UN Commission’s report clearly identifies General Pervez Musharraf, the ISI and the Punjab Police (collectively the powerful security establishment of Pakistan) as responsible for the tragic murder of Benazir Bhutto and also for impeding professional and committed investigation to reveal the high level master minds and the low level operatives of this murder.

Here is a quick summary of the report:

1. 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.

2. The federal Government under General Musharraf, although fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities.

3. The Commission recognizes the heroism of individual PPP supporters, many of whom sacrificed themselves to protect her; however, the additional security arrangements of the PPP lacked leadership and were inadequate and poorly executed.

4. 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 investigation into Ms Bhutto’s assassination, and those who died with her, lacked direction, was ineffective and suffered from a lack of commitment to identify and bring all of the perpetrators to justice.

5. Ms. Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources; these included Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination.

6. The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth. More significantly, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects. Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police. The Commission believes that the failure of the police to investigate effectively Ms Bhutto’s assassination 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.

7. It remains the responsibility of the 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 ma jor step toward ending impunity for political crimes in this country.

The doubtful role of the ISI

An ISI officer, Rawalpindi Detachment Commander Colonel Jehangir Akhtar, was present at the hospital through much of the evening. At one point, the ISI Deputy Director General, Major General Nusrat Naeem, contacted Professor Mussadiq through Colonel Jehangir’s cell phone. When asked about this by the Commission, Major General Nusrat Naeem initially denied making any calls to the hospital, but then acknowledged that he had indeed called the hospital, when pressed further. He asserted that he had made the call, before reporting to his superiors, to hear, directly from Professor Mussadiq that Ms Bhutto had died.

Sources informed the Commission that CPO Saud Aziz did not act independently in deciding to hose down the crime scene. One source, speaking on the basis of anonymity, stated that CPO Saud Aziz had confided in him that he had received a call from Army Headquarters instructing him to order the hosing down of the crime scene. Another source, also speaking on the basis of anonymity, said that the CPO was ordered to hose down the scene by Major General Nadeem Ijaz Ahmad, then Director General of MI. Others, including three police officials, told the Commission that CPO Saud Aziz did not act independently and that “everyone knows” who ordered the hosing down. However, they were not willing to state on the record what it is that “everyone knows”. This is one of the many occasions during the Commission’s inquiry when individuals, including government officials, expressed fear or hesitation to speak openly.

Ms Bhutto’s own concerns about threats to her by Al-Qaida and other militants resulted in part from her knowledge of their links with people who had worked with or been assets of the ISI. She feared that the authorities could activate these connections, using radical Islamists to harm her, while hiding their own role in any attack. This was the basis for her allegations against Lt. General (ret) Hamid Gul and Brigadier (ret) Ejaz Shah, in her 16 October letter to General Musharraf. Gul was Director General of MI under Zia ul Haq and then Director General of the ISI when Ms Bhutto was Prime Minister in 1988-90. Although he was retired, Ms Bhutto believed he still maintained his former close ties with the militant jihadis. Brigadier Ejaz Shah, Director General of the Intelligence Bureau in 2007 and a former ISI officer, was a member of General Musharraf’s inner circle. When Omar Saeed Sheikh¸ the main accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case, was cornered in 2002, he
requested to surrender to Brigadier Shah. Some believe this was because of Brigadier Shah’s reported intelligence connections with Mr Sheikh; Brigadier Shah vigorously denied this and told the Commission that the surrender was facilitated through family ties in their home community.

Militants of particular concern to Ms Bhutto and others included Qari Saifullah Akhtar, one of the founders of the extremist Harkat ul Jihad Islami (HuJI), whom she accused of involvement in a failed coup attempt against her in 1995, during her second government. Mr Akhtar, who was living in Pakistan when Ms Bhutto returned from exile, was reportedly one of the ISI’s main links to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and is believed to have cultivated ties to Mr bin Laden, who lived in Afghanistan during that period. Ms Bhutto believed that Mr Akhtar was connected to the Karachi attack against her in October 2007. Mr Akhtar’s one-time deputy Ilyas Kashmiri, who had ties with the Pakistani military during the Afghan and Kashmir campaigns, had been a senior aide to Mr bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al Zawahiri.

The Commission is not convinced that the decision to wash the scene was made by CPO Saud Aziz alone. The attack was too significant and the target of the attack too important to Pakistani society to make such a decision solely on his level.

Sources told the Commission that CPO Saud Aziz was constantly talking on his mobile phone while at the hospital. In the Commission’s view, he has not adequately explained who called him during that time. Other sources have provided credible information about the intervention of intelligence agencies in the case. Whoever was responsible for this decision, and for whatever reason, acted in a manner that is contrary to the most basic police standards and hampered the proper investigation of the assassination.

The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth.

Despite their explanation to the Commission that they do not have a mandate to conduct criminal investigations, intelligence agencies including the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were present during key points in the police investigation, including the gathering of evidence at the crime scene and the forensic examination of Ms Bhutto’s vehicle, playing a role that the police were reluctant to reveal to the Commission.

More significantly, the ISI conducted parallel investigations, gathering
evidence and detaining suspects. Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police. What little direction police investigators had was provided to them by the intelligence agencies. However, the bulk of the information was not shared with police investigators. In fact, investigators on both the Karachi and Rawalpindi cases were unaware of information the ISI possessed about terrorist cells targeting Ms Bhutto and were unaware that the ISI had detained four persons in late October 2007 for the Karachi attack.

More broadly, no aspect of the Commission’s inquiry was untouched by credible assertions of politicized and clandestine action by the intelligence services – the ISI, Military Intelligence, and the Intelligence Bureau. On virtually every issue the Commission addressed, intelligence agencies played a pervasive role, including a central involvement in the political negotiations regarding Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and the conduct of the elections.

The 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.

Download PDF report here

Related articles:

Benazir Bhutto murder case takes new turn as officials hunt for retired and serving army men

Who is Shakeel Anjum, the author of ‘Who assassinated Benazir Bhutto’?

U.N. Probe of Bhutto Killing Faults Pakistan Military – Time Magazine

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