By B. Raman
Three years after the assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, the cover-up of her assassination not only by the intelligence and investigating agencies, but by even her own Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) continues.
Her party is in power at the head of a coalition at Islamabad. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is the President of Pakistan. Yousef Raza Gilani, one of her close confidants when she was alive, is the Prime Minister. Rehman Malik, a former Police officer, who was responsible for her physical security when she was living in political exile, is the Interior Minister responsible for co-ordinating the investigation. The US, which played a role in bringing about a political reconciliation between her and Gen. Pervez Musharraf thereby paving the way for her return from exile, has very close relations with the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). All these factors should have led to a successful investigation by now, but they have not.
The investigation should have had two objectives. Firstly, to find out why there was no effective physical security for her despite the failed attempt by unidentified elements to kill her on her arrival in Karachi on October 18, 2007. Musharraf, who as the then President had the over-all responsibility for ensuring her security, was allowed to leave Pakistan and take up residence in London without being questioned by the Police. Rehman Malik, who co-ordinated her security on behalf of the PPP, was appointed the Interior Minister without being questioned as to why he left the scene of occurrence before she was killed. Secondly, to establish the details of the conspiracy to kill her, identify and prosecute those responsible. There has been no progress in this either.
In an editorial titled “Benazir Bhutto: ‘tis tough to say goodbye” published on December 27, the “Daily Times” of Lahore says: “It seems as if her ‘deal’ with Musharraf began to unravel as soon as she landed in Karachi and was received by millions of people. The power of the masses brought fear into the hearts of those who masterminded her assassination. Ms Bhutto survived a terror attack on October 18 but she could not defeat death on December 27 when another attempt was made on her life. Her killers have still not been brought to justice. It is a travesty of fate that even though Ms Bhutto’s party is in power and her widower the President of Pakistan, there is no closure regarding her assassination. Those men who have been caught are not the masterminds of BB’s murder plot. It would be a disservice to Ms Bhutto if the PPP is unable to bring the real culprits to book as soon as possible.”
The Executive Committee of the PPP was to meet on December 26 to review the progress of the investigation so far, Rehman Malik had announced that a detailed progress report would be submitted by him to the Executive Committee. Gilani had announced that the progress report after consideration by the Executive Committee would be released to the public.
The Executive Committee met at Naudero as scheduled on December 26, but no progress report was submitted to it. There was no discussion on the progress on the ground that Bilawal Bhutto, Benazir’s son who is the party chairman, could not make it to the meeting. It was decided to postpone a review of the progress of the investigation to an unspecified future date when Bilawal could also be present. It was decided that in the meanwhile the scope of the investigation should be further expanded in order to cover all aspects of the case. It was not stated what aspects had remained uncovered so far.
On December 24, three days before the Executive Committee met, the “Dawn” of Karachi had reported as follows: “The investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is likely to be expanded to unveil some faces, who have so far been out of picture, after two arrested former police officers have told investigators that some intelligence officials were in contact with them on Dec 27, 2007.
In a related development, the Interior Ministry has sent a questionnaire to former president Pervez Musharraf currently living in London to record his statement. The Federal Investigation Agency obtained on Thursday (December 23) six days’ physical custody of former chief of Rawalpindi city police Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shahzad to recover the cellphones they were using on the day the former prime minister was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh. The agency had sought a 12-day remand, but the special judge of Anti-Terrorism Court-III granted six days. The two former police officers were taken into custody on Wednesday after a trial court hearing the case cancelled their pre-arrest bail. Special Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali told reporters after the court proceedings that arrested officers had informed the investigators that four officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence had been in contact with them. But he said that their names could not be disclosed now because it was yet to be ascertained in what context they were in contact with the accused. If concrete evidence was found against the intelligence officers they would be included in the investigation.
The FIA investigators said in the court that forensic tests of the cellphones were needed to ascertain who had been in contact with the two police officers on the day of Benazir’s assassination.”
The “Dawn” report further added: “Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had a few months ago formed a three-member committee, headed by Cabinet Secretary Chaudhry Abdul Rauf, which excluded from inquiry some top military officials who allegedly ordered the hosing down of the assassination site. The inquiry report, however, has not been made public. The UN commission on Benazir’s assassination had accused MI’s former director general Maj-Gen Nadeem Ijaz and some top police officials of being behind the hosing down of the site. The joint investigation team has prepared the 32-point questionnaire for the former President. Interior ministry sources said the document contained questions relating to security lapse and asked the former president why he did not provide adequate security to Ms Bhutto although she had expressed fears about threats to her life. Gen (retd) Musharraf’s spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said the former president had nothing to do with the security of Ms Bhutto. He termed the government’s move to send the questionnaire to Gen Musharraf an attempt to politicise the case and damage him politically.”
Earlier, on December 2, the Pakistani media had carried the following report on the contents of some of the cables sent by Anne Patterson, the then US Ambassador in Pakistan, to the US State Department, which are among those leaked by WikiLeaks: ” Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after getting ‘clearance’ from the US. President Asif Ali Zardari told this to the then US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson after the assassination of BB, US embassy cables revealed. According to the US embassy cables, Zardari held meeting with Patterson on 25th January 2008 in which he opened his remarks by saying that the US is “our safety blanket” and recounted how Benazir had returned despite the threats against her because of support and “clearance” from the US…. He said that he opposed to launch a FIR (First Information Report) over Benazir’s death because Pakistan could not afford any more chaos. US embassy cables revealed that Zardari was not much interested in who the sniper was or exactly how Benazir was killed. This was not as important as finding out who financed the killing, who were the “hands behind” it. Ambassador said that we believed Baitullah Mehsud was responsible; Zardari dismissed this by saying that Mehsud was just a pawn in the process.”
It is evident from this that Zardari was not interested in a proper investigation into the assassination by the Pakistani agencies lest their conclusions prove embarrassing to the Government. He wanted to have the responsibility for the investigation transferred to the United Nations, but the UN was prepared, after considerable persuasion, to enquire into only the physical security aspects of the case and not into the criminal conspiracy behind the assassination. Thus, three years after the assassination, the criminal conspiracy angle has not been thoroughly investigated. The PPP is not prepared to accept the contention of the ISI that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, then headed by Baitullah Mehsud, had mounted the conspiracy in retaliation for Benazir’s support for the army raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007.
Benazir herself had feared an attempt to have her killed by military elements in the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau with the help of Qari Saifullah Akhtar of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) with which Ilyas Kashmiri of the so-called 313 Brigade, with close contacts with Al Qaeda, was associated. Her suspicions regarding the role of these elements in the conspiracy against her have not been properly investigated so far.
In the meanwhile, the Army and the ISI struck back with anger when the UN enquiry sought to pin the blame on the Military Intelligence for the poor physical security provided to her and corroborated the allegations regarding the involvement of the Army and the intelligence agencies in terrorism. The UN report gave rise to strong suspicion that the military intelligence agencies were using the terrorists raised by them not only in India and Afghanistan, but also against their own political leaders whom they found inconvenient.
In an interesting report carried on December 25, the “Dawn” of Karachi has stated as follows: “The military establishment reacted strongly to the United Nations Commission report on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, issued in April this year, and forced the government to write a letter to the UN to reopen the inquiry. Official sources said on Friday (December 24) that the army had termed the report a “bid to malign the national institution” and prepared a detailed reply addressing all aspects of the report. The reply was presented to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who was asked to send it to the UN to record the country’s protest. The inquiry was financed by the government which paid $5 million to the United Nations. The report was opposed not only by the military establishment but also by sections in the civil side of the government. The then foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan had rejected the UN findings. ISPR (Inter-Services Press Relations) Director-General Maj-Gen Athar Abbas agreed that the military had some reservations on the report because it went beyond the mandate of the UN commission. “We have conveyed our reservations with special reference to security related issues to the government and asked it to record protest with the UN,” Gen Abbas said. ”
The “Dawn” added: “The military believes that the UN Commission had touched some issues which had nothing to do with the assassination. During several visits of the three-member UN commission to Pakistan, its members called on top military, civil officials and politicians, including Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI Director-General Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha and recorded their statements. The sources said there was hesitation in the military over the demand of the commission to meet top ranking officials of services but it was accepted to avert a negative impression that the military had some concerns over such meetings. While convincing the government to register a protest with the UN on the report, the army said the world body went beyond its mandate by accusing ISI of conducting covert operations in India and Afghanistan. The commission also accused former director-general of Military Intelligence, Maj-Gen Nadeem Ijaz, and some top police officials of being involved in hosing down the assassination site within 40 minutes after the killing. The issue of hosing down the site and alleged involvement of some top military officials remained a topic of intense discussion for many weeks and Prime Minister Gilani formed a three-member committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Chaudhry Abdul Rauf to look into the matter.”
The “Dawn” said further: “The committee (headed by the Cabinet Secretary) in its report, which has not been made public, gave a clean chit to top military and police officials. Some other findings opposed by the military are: “General Musharraf also had the full support of what is known in Pakistan as the ‘establishment’, the de facto power structure that has as its permanent core the military high command and 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, with the military ruling the country directly for 32 of its 62 years as an independent state. General Musharraf finally stepped down as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on November 28, 2007, handing the post over to his hand-picked successor, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. This did not, however, change the military nature of the regime.The UN in its response to the letter sent by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi ruled out the reopening of the inquiry and set aside Islamabad’s objection. Mr. Qureshi’s letter said the UN commission’s observations about the Pakistan Army and the ISI were not based on evidence. He said the UN report had a serious flaw because the commission had failed to approach third party states or to provide some reliable information to unearth, if any, international linkages perpetrating, planning, financing and abetting Bhutto’s assassination. A Joint Investigation Team formed to investigate the Benazir case had issued its report earlier this month again blaming the slain chief of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, of masterminding the murder. However, the UN Commission had said that blaming the TTP leader for the assassination was a bid to divert the investigation from the right direction.”
Thus, three years after the assassination of Benazir, the conspiracy to have her killed has been followed by a fresh conspiracy to prevent the real facts of the case from coming out. No one in Pakistan is interested in finding out the truth— neither the PPP, not the civilian Government, nor the Army, nor the military intelligence agencies nor the Federal Investigation Agency nor the judiciary.
Such being the state of affairs in Pakistan, we will be living in a fool’s paradise if we think that the Pakistani investigating agencies are going to properly investigate the conspiracy behind the terrorist strike by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Mumbai from November 26 to 28,2008, and successfully prosecute those responsible. A question often posed to analysts on Pakistan is: Is there any danger of the Pakistan State being captured by the jihadi terrorists one day? The terrorists may not as yet be in de jure control of the State, but they are already in a de facto position to see that the State does not take any action which could prove detrimental to the terrorists. The judiciary may be increasingly bold in acting against the political executive and even the Army, but it is afraid of acting against the terrorists. There are five centres of power in Pakistan today: The Executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the Army and the terrorists inspired and led by Al Qaeda. That is the reality confronting the world.