Analysts skeptical Bhutto investigation will result in justice
UN report says Musharraf regime did not protect her
ISLAMABAD — A lack of political will and fear of upsetting powerful vested interests will probably scupper any efforts to find Benazir Bhutto’s assassins, analysts said yesterday, a day after a UN report blamed the former military regime for failing to protect her and called for a thorough investigation.
The publication of the report led to fresh calls for a new probe into the killing of the former prime minister, but they were met with skepticism that the killers would be brought to justice. That outcome would be par for the course in Pakistan, whose history is studded with high-profile political assassinations — including the country’s first president and two of Bhutto’s brothers — that remain a mystery to this day.
“If you look at the country’s traditions, it seems we may never know,’’ said Ishtiaq Ahmad, a professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. “The government is in crisis, there is a war on terror going on. This is not a normal situation.’’
Many critics noted the current government — led by Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, and made up of members of her political party — had not made the investigation into her death a top priority despite being in power for the last 18 months.
Bhutto was killed on Dec. 27, 2007, in a gun and suicide-bomb attack as she was leaving a rally in Rawalpindi city, where she was campaigning to return her party to power in elections after returning from nearly nine years in self-imposed exile.
The country was then ruled by the deeply unpopular President Pervez Musharraf and battered, as now, by Al Qaeda and Taliban violence. Supporters of Bhutto immediately hinted that Musharraf or his allies in the security forces may have played a role in the killing in order to prevent her from returning to power.
The United Nations was tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the death, not revealing the killers.
The report was highly critical of steps taken by investigators in the aftermath of the death, including the hosing down of the crime scene, the failure to perform an autopsy, and their decision to hold a media conference the day after, in which they blamed a Taliban commander. It also said Musharraf failed to make serious efforts to ensure her safety.
The report was welcomed by the government, which said it validated its earlier suspicions of Musharraf. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the report “was a shot in the arm into ongoing investigations’’ into her death, referring to a reopened probe in 2009.
But the UN said that “it is unclear to what extent even this investigation will be free to conduct an unfettered pursuit of the truth.’’
The investigators identified two main threats facing Bhutto — Islamist extremists like Al Qaeda and the Taliban who opposed her links to the West and secular outlook, and members of the “Pakistani Establishment,’’ the term used locally to refer to a powerful and shady network of military, intelligence, political, and business leaders who many people believe are in real control of the country. The report said that group — which in the past has forged links with Islamist militants it deployed in Afghanistan and India — feared her return to the country would threaten their position and interests.
Musharraf aide Rashid Qureshi said the report was “a pack of lies’’ and that Musharraf — currently living abroad — was not responsible.
Cyril Almedia, a columnist for the respected Dawn newspaper, said he didn’t think the weak Zardari government would investigate the slaying thoroughly for fear of upsetting the military, which despite being nominally under the control of the civilian government still pulls many of its strings. Its loyalty extends to its former chief, Musharraf.
“This entire report fingers Musharraf. I don’t think the government of Zardari will be taking up that fight right now,’’ Almedia said.