Why Benazir Bhutto’s killer can’t be taken to task – by Amir Mir

Three years after Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination in Rawalpindi and almost nine months after the United Nations Inquiry Commission released its report, carrying broad hints about her probable assassins, the actual mastermind of her murder still remains at large.

The UN commission report, which was released 28 months after her assassination, had cited a major lapse in her security plan and squarely blamed General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for that. The report made it abundantly clear that Benazir Bhutto had been left completely at the mercy of her killers, who took advantage of the pitiable security arrangements and assassinated her. The April 15, 2010 release of the UN Inquiry Commission’s report had revived the interest of the general public in the issue and all the mysteries that surround it.

Although the commission stopped short of naming Musharraf as the Bhutto killer, it did go much further than anyone could have imagined in blaming him and giving broad hints about his role in the security lapses that paved the way for her assassination.

There were pages after pages in the commission’s report of evidence implicating the military’s intelligence outfits, for their involvement in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.A long-established nexus between the Pakistani military and the militants too reinforced public suspicions of the military and intelligence establishment’s possible involvement in the murder. However, despite the release of the commission’s hard hitting report, her own party’s government seems reluctant to proceed against the actual culprits, including those Bhutto had herself named as her “would-be assassins”. Therefore, the million-dollar question remains do her own party’s government has the guts to proceed against either Musharraf or any of his former khaki associates whose role has been questioned by the commission?

There are many angles to the murder that have not yet been explored by Pakistani authorities. The UN Commission pointed out, albeit delicately, some of these, and there is clearly a great deal still hidden from the public eye despite the installation of her own party’s government in Islamabad. The release of the UN report led to fresh calls for a new probe into her murder, but amidst scepticism that the masterminds of the plot would ever be brought to justice. Despite these calls, it appears that investigating a possible involvement of the military or intelligence agencies in the Bhutto murder will be extremely difficult for the fragile civilian government in Islamabad.

Many in the government circles concede privately that despite the UN Inquiry Commission’s findings, the PPP government will not be able to take Bhutto’s killers to task, mainly for fear of upsetting the khaki leadership which, despite being nominally under the control of the civilian government, still pulls many of its strings. The main problem is that Musharraf was allowed to leave the country under an unannounced deal sponsored by the Americans and brokered by the current military leadership, under which the dictator was given a safe passage and immunity from any type of prosecution.

The official circles further say that the three-year extension granted to the current army chief is, in fact, a reminder of the limits of the civilian government’s authority. In short, when it comes to policy planning with regard to the United States, Afghanistan and India, it is the all-powerful military establishment which is actually calling the shots since Pervez Musharraf’s exit, and will continue to do so for the next three years, given the fact that Pakistan has spent most of its sixty-three-year history under military rule. Despite Musharraf’s unceremonious exit from political horizon, the army remains the country’s dominant force, and many believe that the government would not be able to proceed against him for his alleged role in the Bhutto murder, especially after General Kayani’s extension.

Currently languishing in self-imposed exile in London, Musharraf is already well beyond the reach of the Pakistani authorities. And since the political clout of the army, Musharraf had left behind, refuses to diminish, many in government circles believe the country’s khaki top brass will not allow a potentially humiliating probe against their former army chief for his role in the Bhutto murder. Despite Pervez Musharraf’s ouster from power, and the apparent withdrawal of the military from civilian life, the reality of present-day Pakistan is that the PPP government is weak and the all-powerful military is firmly in control.

Under these circumstances, the domestic inquiry initiated by the PPP government in the Bhutto murder with a lot of sound and fury seems to be back to square one, especially after the khakis compelled the government of the day in July 2010 to write a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and point out a spate of inaccuracies and unsubstantiated observations in the UN Commission’s report on Bhutto’s assassination. Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas has already conceded that the UN report was taken by the military leadership as a bid to malign the national institution.

Therefore, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was made to write a seven-page letter to the UN secretary general which objected to, among other things, “repeated but un-evidenced finger-pointing at the role of Pakistani security agencies and the establishment, in the Bhutto murder”. Quite bizarrely, the letter was written two months after the report was submitted to the government and welcomed by President Zardari, saying it has strengthened the hands of his government and would help in pursuing the murder investigation effectively. The main thrust of the letter written by the foreign minister of the PPP, which claims to be the only anti-establishment party, was to deflect attention from the “establishment” and therefore lessen the opprobrium directed at it.

The letter stated that the Pakistan government has approached the UN with a plea to warn member states against using, to Pakistan’s disadvantage, observations about the country’s military establishment made in its report on the Bhutto murder. It may be recalled that the UN report had quoted multiple sources as having claimed that the country’s mighty establishment — the de facto power structure comprising the military high command and intelligence agencies, in particular, the ISI the MI and the IB, and their powerful allies among the political parties and civil bureaucracy — felt threatened by the possibility of Bhutto’s return and was involved in or bore some responsibility for her assassination.

Almost two weeks after Shah Mehmood Qureshi wrote the letter to the UN Secretary General, in an obvious bid to appease the khaki establishment, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was given a three-year extension by the government. In a nutshell, it seems as if the Benazir murder case is in the doldrums as the government apparently lacks the political capacity to bring the actual assassins to book. Many believe if her killers cannot be unmasked now, while her PPP is ostensibly in power in Islamabad, it is less likely that they will ever be unmasked, and there is a possibility that like all infamous murder cases, the mastermind of Bhutto’s murder will also remain a shadowy figure. With the death of the world’s first woman to have led an Islamic nation twice, only truth and justice can be the greatest revenge. That is what the people of Pakistan want and that is what Benazir Bhutto deserves.

Source: The News, December 27, 2010



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