Autopsy of an assassination – Irfan Hussain

Source Dawn

IN the mid-1990s, when there was an upsurge in the bloody infighting between the MQM and its breakaway Haqiqi faction, the head of the Intelligence Bureau in Karachi told me that if the ISI were to just move out of the city, the violence would cease overnight.

The military agency’s role in internal politics was highlighted yet again by the UN commission appointed to investigate the facts and circumstances of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007. Apart from highlighting the Musharraf regime’s criminal neglect in providing protection to the ex-prime minister, the report also lays bare the ISI’s fingerprints in efforts to obstruct the investigation into the murder.

Apart from its efforts to pinpoint the many security failures that led to the entirely avoidable tragedy, the commission also has some troubling comments on Pakistan’s power structure. Indeed, a student of the country’s civilian-military relationship could learn more from the report than from many books written on the subject. For instance, a portion of paragraph 13 says:

“General Musharraf also had the full support of what is known in Pakistan as the establishment, the de facto power structure that has at its permanent core the military high command and its intelligence agencies, in particular the powerful, military-run ISI, as well as Military Intelligence (MI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The capability of the establishment to exercise power in Pakistan is based in large part on the central role played by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies in the country’s political life.…”

Time and again, the report reiterates that it is the duty of the state to provide security for its citizens, especially when several threats against a high-profile target like Benazir Bhutto had been clearly identified. In a precise and methodical manner, the UN commission proceeds to expose the huge gaps and flaws in the pitiful security arrangements that were made by the federal and Punjab governments. In particular, the report is very critical of the lack of coordination among the different agencies entrusted with the task of protecting Ms Bhutto.

The commission is struck by the cowardly behaviour of Rehman Malik in the immediate aftermath of the fatal blast. Having commandeered the back-up bullet-proof car that was supposed to follow Benazir Bhutto’s vehicle, our interior minister hightailed it to the safety of Zardari House in Islamabad when he heard the blast.

Accompanying him were Babar Awan, Farhatullah Babar and the retired Gen Tauqir Zia. The latter appeared very shifty when cross-questioned recently on a private TV channel. He could find no reply to the question of why the group did not immediately turn around and return to the venue of the rally when they heard the explosion. What he was doing there in the first place is beyond me.

Why Rehman Malik is still in the government after the publication of this devastating indictment is also something difficult to understand. While he tried to squirm out of his responsibilities in coordinating security arrangements when giving evidence to the commission, the fact is that he basked in this role on BB’s return in October 2007. In his defence, it could be said that to think the PPP could undertake such a sensitive task is expecting too much. When somebody once suggested that the party might have been behind Zia’s mysterious death in 1988, a friend caustically remarked: “The PPP couldn’t chew gum and cross the road at the same time.”

When this government originally approached the United Nations to conduct this inquiry, I thought it to be a mistake. After all, no other country was being blamed for the crime, and nor is the UN an investigative agency. However, after reading the commission’s report, I realise I was wrong. Such is the credibility of our government agencies that had one of them produced an identical report, it would have been immediately dismissed as being politically motivated.

While the commission has not made any direct accusations against any individual or agency, it has indicated the direction an official investigation should take. In addition, it has identified a large number of lapses, and those responsible for them. While the government has suspended a number of civilians named and shamed in the report, it has yet to take any action against the shadowy army officers pulling the strings behind the scenes. And while the government has waited two years for this report, it no longer has any excuse for dawdling any further.

The truth is that our history is full of unsolved political murders, ranging from Liaquat Ali Khan to Benazir Bhutto. More prime ministers have been assassinated than voted out of office. And yet when it chooses to, the government is capable of protecting its leaders: both Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz enjoyed virtually bomb-proof protection. But Musharraf did not have the chivalry to extend the same level of security to Benazir Bhutto.

Out of all Musharraf’s many crimes of omission and commission, this is the one I can never forgive him for. Surely after the attempt on her life the day she arrived in Pakistan, Musharraf and his many minions in and out of uniform should have woken up to the very real threat Benazir Bhutto was under.

Apart from the element of criminal conspiracy and the duplicitous attempts at a cover-up, the report also underlines the woeful level of motivation, professionalism and competence in our police at every level. To Pakistanis, this is nothing new. We have all grown up in the shadow of our bumbling, corrupt cops. However, the same incompetence has been revealed at the very top of our security apparatus. Nevertheless, the report does make it clear that the police investigation was hampered and compromised by the constant behind-the-scenes interference by the ISI and the army.

In a sense, this tragedy and its aftermath encapsulate the problems created by the domination of the entire system by the military. When the ISI is calling the shots in a police investigation, even senior cops can wash their hands off their responsibility. After all, why would Saud Aziz, the Rawalpindi chief police officer stick his neck out and refuse to hose down the crime scene when he was apparently ordered to do so by an army officer? Or why would he authorise an autopsy when instructed not to?

If the government really wants to investigate Benazir Bhutto’s murder, it will clearly have to question army officers who figure in this report. It has suspended several civilian officers, but if it wants to establish its determination to pursue the case seriously, it must begin by sacking Rehman Malik.



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