It will be late night or early morning in Pakistan when the much awaited United Nations report on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is released by the UN. There is a litmus test that will determine, for me at least, whether the report has any relevance or meaning. I will come to that later in this article. The United Nations commission was charged with examining the facts and circumstances behind the December 2007 assassination. The Commission is headed by Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz of Chile, and its other members are Marzuki Darusman, the former attorney-general of Indonesia, and Peter Fitzgerald, a veteran of the Irish National Police who has also served the UN in a number of capacities.
Late last year, the commission, headed by Heraldo Munoz, Chile ambassador to the UN ambassador, extended its investigation by three months to enable commissioners to sift through the evidence.
The UN fact-finders were asked to probe Ms. Bhutto’s assassination in a gun and bomb suicide attack in the closing days of Pakistan’s 2007 elections, as well as her narrow escape from a similar bombing two months earlier, when she paraded triumphantly through Karachi after returning home from eight years in exile.
Given that it was a fact finding mission with limited access to some of the key officials, the report is unlikely to go much further than to catalogue prior assessments (including that dubious report of the Scotland Yard which was full of qualifications), but it is expected to criticize Pakistan’s security establishment for failing to protect Ms. Bhutto and the crime scene. The UN findings also come at a sensitive time for Asif Zardari who has been trying to improve relations with the security services. It has never suited either Zardari or Nawaz Sharif to push for a real investigation because many top retired and serving generals would have come under criticism and neither of the two wants to displease the khakis. But what about Iftikhar Chaudhry? Isn’t he supposed to restore the rule of law because nobody is above law. But maybe, the past president enjoys immunity whereas the incumbent does not. Who knows? I am not an expert in constitutional law.
Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has taken suo moto notices of all kinds of cases including big money contracts, government appointments, flogging of a girl in Swat as shown in a video report, alleged rape of a 8th class student from district Narowal, by her male teacher, etc. Just a day before Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s last death anniversary, Justice Chaudhry paid a surprise visit to Tando Adam Prison and directed Chief Justice Sindh High Court to take notice of Superintendent Prison’s not knowing of the number of inmates. How well meaning and considerate!
Their Lordship(s) demonstrated undue and indecent haste in blocking the government’s move to elevate Punjab High Court’s Justice Khawaja Sharif to the Supreme Court. They were swift to punish an-FIA official who happened to be a friend of Asif Zardari. But Benazir Bhutto’s murder investigation and snail-paced trial by a lower court has not attracted any attention from their Lordship(s). Maybe, they think the government is doing its job properly. Or perhaps their view is Mohatarma allah ko piyari ho gein, banda ab kiya kar sakta hey? Or their Lordship(s) think Benazir’s murder did not violate anyone’s fundamental rights under Article 184 of the constitution, so it is therefore a subject that does not deserve their attention. Or none of the above?
The real reasons are simple. Any meaningful investigation into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination cannot be completed without interviewing not only some foreign leaders (like UAE’s Sheikh Maktoom, Condi Rice, Karzai) but also some former key Generals including Pervez Musharraf, former ISI Chief Nadeem Taj and MI Head Nadeem Ijaz and of course Pervez Kayani. But not the least, former head of the Intelligence Bureau – Brig (rtd.) Ijaz Shah who was probably the most critical link in the conspiracy to assassinate Benazir Bhutto. Any investigation without a detailed examination of the activities of Ijaz Shah, particularly his phone call records, would be worthless. Why?
This was not a spur of the moment remark. And let me share what I know first hand. A couple of days after BB’s welcome procession was bombed on October 18, 2007, a friend of mine who was a correspondent of a major Western newspaper dropped by to see me. After some coffee, he said he wanted to unload something off his chest. He explained that the whole thing was off the record ( as he had given his word and he wanted to honour a journalist’s pledge to keep it off the record). He then told me something rather astonishing. He was sitting in the office of Lt. Gen. Ahsan Azhar Hayat – then Corp. Commander of Sind and presently serving in the GHQ- when BB’s procession was making its way through Share-e-Faisal. According to the correspondent, it so happened that Musharraf called at the same time and expressed his annoyance at the coverage that was being given to her home coming. From what this correspondent told me [and he had no reason to invent or make up this story for my amusement if for argument’s sake some one might quibble], it transpired that Musharraf wanted the procession to be off the TV screens even it meant the street lights had to be turned off. The correspondent did not tell me who Musharraf ordered to do this. But the information was obviously very sensitive and explosive.
I communicated this to BB immediately through a contact [BB narrated this reported incident to many influential persons including the US Ambassador Anne Patterson] and requested me to prepare a dossier on Ijaz Shah. I prepared this and delivered the dossier on October 22, 2007. She asked one of her Islamabad-based party members to deliver a copy of the dossier to Ann Patterson as well.
Benazir’s meeting with Ann Patterson after the imposition of emergency by Musharraf was explosive. The meeting took place on the 19th November, 2007 at Bilawal House, Karachi. Ann was pressing her to cooperate with Musharraf despite the imposition of the emergency. BB’s view was the elections under the circumstances would be a sham. When Ann Patterson continued to press her, BB – in the presence of her aide Zafar Hilaly – shot back:
” Do you want me to cooperate with some one who wants to kill me?” The meeting ended on this rather tense note.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Ron Suskind describes what went on in his book, The Way of the World (pp. 358):
” The United States should have done whatever was necessary – including sending over a few hundred Secret Service agents or pulling together a small security team – to make sure Bhutto lived to see Election day. It was matter of will. Cheney never made the call Bhutto was hoping for. He and the president, once again, trusted illegitimate power over stated principles. They went with Musharraf.”
It is not difficult to reach the organisers of BB’s murder but who will bell the cat? Would their Lordship(s) take suo moto notice and ask the interior minister to apprise the Supreme Court about the investigation and also President Zardari to tell the Court who killed BB if Mr. Zardari knows the killers?