The recent UN report on the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has put forth in black and white what has been hitherto suspected and perceived – the murky role of Pakistan intelligence agencies’, especially the ISI, in every aspect of Pakistan’s polity.
While the report essentially concentrates on the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Benazir, the report is scathing on the role played by the intelligence agencies, especially the ISI – intimidating the local police into “deliberately” scuttling the investigations and creating an atmosphere where they acted only on under instructions.
“A number of knowledgeable and credible persons with whom the Commission spoke cited the pervasive reach, control and clandestine role of intelligence agencies in Pakistani society. In the course of this inquiry, the Commission encountered abundant confirmation of this not only in law enforcement matters, but also in various aspects of the country’s political life during 2007″, the three-man UN Commission which went into the circumstances of Benazir’s death noted.
The Commission goes one step further by outlining the role of the ISI, not just in the strategic sphere but by interfering and monitoring the everyday life of the players in the Pakistani political system.
“The Commission received credible information regarding the systematic wire-tapping by the ISI and the IB not only of suspected terrorists and other criminals, but also of politicians, government officials, journalists and social activists. These activities are not authorized or overseen by judicial authorities and are not in keeping with the operations of such agencies in a democratic society”, the UN report said.
“The deep and direct involvement of the ISI, through its most senior leadership, in the political negotiations between General Musharraf and Ms Bhutto in all of its stages and the role of all of the intelligence agencies in efforts to sack the Chief Justice and influence the composition of the Courts are additional examples of their central function”.
” This pervasive involvement of intelligence agencies in diverse spheres, which is an open secret, has undermined the rule of law, distorted civilian -military relations and weakened some political and law enforcement institutions. At the same time, it has contributed to wide-spread public distrust in those institutions and fed a generalized political culture that thrives on competing conspiracy theories”.
“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,” the UN report says.
It also blames the ISI for “conducting parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects”. “Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police”, the report points out.
The UN Commission also details how their independent investigation, under the mandate of the UN was sought to be derailed by denying access to crucial players in the episode especially Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. “The Commission was mystified, however, by the efforts of certain high-ranking government officials to obstruct access to Pakistani military and intelligence sources”.
Even the former Prime Minister was clear about who she had to fear in the Pakistani establishment. When she was attacked immediately after she returned to Pakistan, in which 136 people were killed, near the Jinnah International Airport in October 2007, she filed an affidavit in which two of the three persons she said could be behind the attempt were ISI officials – Brigadier (retd.) Ejaz Shah, Director General of the IB and former ISI official; and, Lt. General (retd.) Hamid Gul, Director General of the ISI during her first tenure as Prime Minister.
The UN Commission lays a great stress on the fact that within an hour-and-a-half of the Benazir’s murder the crime scene was hosed-down by the local police with water and nothing was done to preserve evidence. Considering the gravity of the crime; a grave error. But, was the destruction of evidence deliberate?
The Commission noted that when the UN team enquired into why the local police did not follow basic tenets of criminal investigation, they were told that local police did not act independently and that “everyone knows” who ordered the hosing down. However, they were not willing to state on 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”.
The Commission outlines the dubious role of the agency in trying to create a ‘strategic depth’ for Pakistan by inflicting a ‘thousand cuts’ on India and Pakistan by supporting and funding terror groups operating in Afghanistan and India. This, in turn, has come to haunt Pakistan, since the very forces that the ISI and the Pakistan Army once supported have turned against them – in the form of an umbrella formation called Tehreek-e-Taliban, which has during the last year indulged in large scale killing in Pakistan, with the death toll in the four digits.
“The Pakistani military and ISI used and supported some of these (Jihadi) groups in the Kashmir insurgency after 1989. The bulk of the anti-Indian activity was and still remains the work of groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has close ties with the ISI. A common characteristic of these jihadi groups was their adherence to the Deobandi Sunni sect of Islam, their strong anti-Shia bias, and their use by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies in Afghanistan and Kashmir,” said the report.
UN Report Benazir Bhutto