WHATEVER one’s political persuasion, it is impossible to deny that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was a cataclysmic event for Pakistan. Ms Bhutto was no ordinary person: internationally, she was one of the few Pakistanis who had instant name recognition; nationally, she was the leader of the only party that can genuinely claim countrywide support. When she returned to Pakistan in October 2007, she did so with every likelihood of returning to power through the ballot box. Could there be another death that deserved to be investigated as fully and as thoroughly as hers? And yet, a government led by her own party — with a PPP president, prime minister, interior adviser, attorney general and law minister — has shown an astonishing lack of commitment to any investigation. The official PPP line is that only the UN can fully investigate Ms Bhutto’s death, and that Pakistan is pressing for a commission to be set up at the earliest. But a year since the assassination, and eight months since the PPP-led government has been in power, this explanation is looking increasingly worn.
Leave aside the complications of assembling a UN investigation commission and its potential for future international interference in Pakistan; can this government not launch a parallel enquiry of its own? It is hardly unusual for multiple commissions and committees to probe an event of such magnitude. In the case of Ms Bhutto’s assassination, there are enough questions to occupy several investigations. Yet, from questions about the actual events at Liaquat Bagh to those about the links of the attackers to questions about the wider nexus between politics and terrorism, nothing about Ms Bhutto’s death has been probed by the government. Strangely, the government has even distanced itself from the trial of five men by an anti-terrorism court on charges of involvement in Ms Bhutto’s assassination, creating the peculiar situation of ATC-I Judge Chaudhry Habibur Rehman conducting the only trial related to the death, while the government is “waiting for the UN”, in the words of Law Minister Farooq Naek.
The public deserves better. Less than two months after Ms Bhutto’s assassination, 35 million Pakistanis voted in the February election and 30 per cent cast their vote for the PPP. The People’s Party leadership owes a debt to all those voters, whether they supported the party or otherwise, because they endorsed the democratic process — the only way the PPP can come to power. To sustain that process, the government must rebuild the public’s faith in a broken system of governance. But if a PPP government appears impotent to investigate its leader’s assassination, why should anyone have faith in democracy? By standing on the sidelines, the government is empowering the very forces that seek to destroy it. (Dawn, 28 Dec 2008)