Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)
The general elections in Pakistan, scheduled for 8 January 2008, have been postponed till 18 February 2008. This decision was taken by the Pakistan Election Commission in the wake of the assassination of twice prime minister of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (Parliamentarian) [PPP (P)], Benazir Bhutto. Rioting broke out in many parts of Pakistan, but especially in the province of Sindh to which Ms Bhutto and her family belong. The destruction of government buildings and infrastructure has been staggering. The offices of the Election Commission, polling booths, the voters’ list, police stations, petrol pumps, railway stations and railway carriages, trucks and private cars have been torched by angry mobs. Sindh has been practically burning. The government deployed the military in Sindh with orders to shoot on sight. Pakistan could be on the brink of a civil war. [Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007) Assassinated – Pakistan in Turmoil
Ishtiaq Ahmed ISAS Brief No. 40 – Date: 4 January 2008 ]
Assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
On 27 December 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated as she left a campaign event at Liaquat Bagh, in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. In the attack on Ms Bhutto, 24 other people were killed and 91 injured. After a request from the Government of Pakistan and extensive consultations with Pakistani officials as well as with members of the United Nations Security Council, the Secretary-General appointed a three member Commission of Inquiry to determine the facts and circumstances of the assassination of the former prime minister. The duty of carrying out a criminal investigation, finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, remains with the competent Pakistani authorities.
The Secretary-General appointed Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, the Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations as head of the Commission as well as Mr Marzuki Darusman, a former Attorney-General of Indonesia, and Mr Peter FitzGerald, a former Deputy Commissioner of the Irish Police, the Garda Siochána. The Commission commenced its activities on 1 July 2009 and provided its report to the Secretary-General on 30 March 2010.
In the course of its inquiry, the Commission received significant support from the Government of Pakistan and many of its citizens. The Commissioners and staff traveled frequently to Pakistan in the furtherance of its mandate. The Commission conducted more than 250 interviews, meeting with Pakistani officials and private citizens, foreign citizens with knowledge of the events in Pakistan and members of the United Kingdom Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) team that investigated aspects of the assassination. The Commission also reviewed hundreds of documents, videos, photographs and other documentary material provided by Pakistan’s federal and provincial authorities and others.
The Commission also met with representatives of other governments such as Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. Some relevant senior officials were not made available to the Commission, but the Commission is satisfied that this did not hinder its ability to establish the facts and circumstances of the assassination. Pertinent information from these sources, including on threats to Ms Bhutto, nevertheless, was already in the possession of Pakistani authorities and eventually came to be known by the Commission.
The Commission was mystified by the efforts of certain high-ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources, as revealed in their public declarations. The extension of the mandate until 31 March enabled the Commission to pursue further this matter and eventually meet with some past and present members of the Pakistani military and intelligence services. The report addresses the political and security context of Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan; the security arrangements made for her by the Pakistani authorities, who bore the primary responsibility to protect her, as well as her political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP); events immediately before and after the assassination; and the criminal investigations and actions of the Pakistani Government and police in the aftermath of the crime.
Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan on 18 October 2007 and assassination on 27 December 2007 culminated a year of intense political conflict, revolving largely around the elections scheduled for later that year and their potential for opening a transition to democracy after eight years of military rule. It was also one of the most violent years in Pakistani history. She returned in the context of a tenuous and inconclusive political agreement with General Pervez Musharraf, as part of a process facilitated by the United Kingdom and the United States.
Ms Bhutto’s assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken. The responsibility for Ms Bhutto’s security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police. None of these entities took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.
The federal Government under General Musharraf, although fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats. This is especially grave given the attempt on her life in Karachi when she returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007.
The PPP provided additional security for Ms. Bhutto. The Commission recognizes the heroism of individual PPP supporters, many of whom sacrificed themselves to protect her; however, the additional security arrangements of the PPP lacked leadership and were inadequate and poorly executed.
The Rawalpindi district police’s actions and omissions in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Ms Bhutto, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation. The investigation into Ms Bhutto’s assassination, and those who died with her, lacked direction, was ineffective and suffered from a lack of commitment to identify and bring all of the perpetrators to justice. While she died when a 15 and a half year-old suicide bomber detonated his explosives near her vehicle, no one believes that this boy acted alone.
Ms. Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources; these included Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination.
The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth. More significantly, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects. Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police.
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.
It remains the responsibility of the Pakistani authorities to carry out a serious, credible criminal investigation that determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and brings those responsible to justice. Doing so would constitute a ma jor step toward ending impunity for political crimes in this country.
The Commission has come to the following findings:
i. After nine years in exile, former Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007, during an exceptionally violent year, marked by sharp increases in violence carried out both by Islamist extremists and by the state. She returned in the context of a tenuous and inconclusive political agreement with General Pervez Musharraf, as part of a process encouraged and facilitated by the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States. While their discussions included the issue of an eventual power-sharing arrangement, the final terms were never agreed. Indeed, the
Commission received no compelling evidence that, by the time of her assassination, either Ms Bhutto or General Musharraf believed that she or he still needed the support of the other to achieve their ultimate political goals.
ii. Ms Bhutto was murdered on 27 December 2007 when a 15 and a half year-old suicide bomber detonated his explosives near her vehicle as she was leaving the PPP event at Liaquat Bagh. No one believes that this boy acted alone. A range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms Bhutto and second to investigate with vigour all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack, but also in its conception, planning and financing.
iii. Responsibility for Ms Bhutto’s security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police. None of these entities took necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.
iv. The federal Government under General Musharraf, although fully aware of, and tracking, the serious threats to Ms Bhutto’s security, did little more than pass on those threats to her and provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats. The federal Government failed in its primary responsibility to provide effective protection to Ms Bhutto on her return to Pakistan.
v. The federal Government lacked a comprehensive security plan for Ms Bhutto, relying instead on provincial authorities, but then failed to issue to them the necessary instructions. Particularly inexcusable was the Government’s failure to direct provincial authorities to provide Ms Bhutto the same stringent and specific security measures it ordered on 22 October 2007 for two other former prime ministers who belonged to the main political party supporting General Musharraf. This discriminatory treatment is profoundly troubling given the devastating attempt on her life only three days earlier and the specific threats against her which were being tracked by the ISI.
vi. Ms Bhutto’s assassination on 27 December 2007 could have been prevented if the Rawalpindi District Police had taken adequate security measures. The security arrangements for Ms Bhutto by the Rawalpindi District Police were ineffective and insufficient. The police’s security plan, as written, was flawed, containing insufficient focus on Ms Bhutto’s protection and focusing instead on the deployment of police for crowd control purposes. In many respects, the security plan was not implemented. Although the plan called for deploying 1,371 police officers, the actual deployment did not approach that number. Among other failings: the police co-ordinated poorly with the PPP’s own security; police escort units did not protect Ms Bhutto’s vehicle as tasked; parked police vehicles blocked the emergency route; and, the police took grossly inadequate steps to clear the crowd so that Ms Bhutto’s vehicle would have safe passage on leaving Liaquat Bagh. The performance of individual police officers and police leadership was poor in areas of forward planning, accountability and command and control.
vii. The additional security arrangements of the PPP lacked leadership and were inadequate and poorly executed. The Commission recognizes the heroism of individual PPP supporters, many of whom sacrificed themselves to protect Ms Bhutto. However, Ms Bhutto was left vulnerable in a severely damaged vehicle that was unable to transport her to the hospital by the irresponsible and hasty departure of the bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz which, as the back-up vehicle, was an essential part of her convoy.
viii. The Rawalpindi District Police’s actions and omissions in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Ms Bhutto, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation. The collection of 23 pieces of evidence was manifestly inadequate in a case that should have resulted in thousands. The one instance in which the authorities reviewed these actions, the Punjab committee of inquiry into the hosing down of the crime scene was a whitewash. Hosing down the crime scene so soon after the blast goes beyond mere incompetence; it is up to the relevant authorities to determine whether this amounts to criminal responsibility. Furthermore, CPO Saud Aziz impeded some Joint Investigation Team investigators from conducting on-site investigations until two full days after the assassination. The failure of provincial authorities to otherwise review effectively the gross failures of the senior Rawalpindi police officials and deal with them appropriately
constitutes a broader whitewash by Punjab officials.
ix. The deliberate prevention by CPO Saud Aziz of a post mortem examination of Ms Bhutto hindered a definitive determination of the cause of her death. It was patently unrealistic for the CPO to expect that Mr Zardari would allow an autopsy on his arrival in Pakistan at Chaklala Airbase nearly seven hours after his wife’s death and after her remains had been placed in a coffin and brought to the airport. The autopsy should have been carried out at Rawalpindi General Hospital long before Mr Zardari arrived.
x. The Commission is persuaded that the Rawalpindi police chief, CPO Saud Aziz, did not act independently of higher authorities, either in the decision to hose down the crime scene or to impede the post-mortem examination.
xi. The Government press conference conducted by Brigadier Cheema on 28 December 2007, the day after the assassination, was ordered by General Musharraf. The Government’s assertion that Ms Bhutto’s death was caused when she hit her head on the lever of her vehicle’s escape hatch and that Baitullah Mehsud and Al-Qaida were responsible for the suicide bomber were made well before any proper investigation had been initiated. This action preempted, prejudiced and hindered the subsequent investigation.
xii. An unequivocal determination as to the cause and means of Ms Bhutto’s death would have required an autopsy. The Commission has uncovered no new evidence to suggest a gunshot injury to Ms Bhutto. Instead, a senior PPP official who publicly purported soon after the assassination to have seen indications of a bullet injury admitted to the Commission that she did not have direct knowledge of such an injury.
xiii. Ms Bhutto faced serious threats in Pakistan from a number of sources; these included Al-Qaida, the Taliban and local jihadi groups, and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Notwithstanding these threats, the investigation into her assassination focused on pursuing lower level operatives allegedly linked to Baitullah Mehsud. The Commission finds it disturbing that little was done to investigate Baitullah Mehsud himself, AlQaida and any individuals or organizations that might have worked on, supported or otherwise been involved directly or indirectly in the planning or execution of the assassination. Investigators also dismissed the possibility of involvement by elements of the Establishment, including the three persons identified by Ms Bhutto as threats to her in her 16 October 2007 letter to General Musharraf.
xiv. The Commission has identified other significant flaws in the Joint Investigation Team investigation led by the Punjab Additional Inspector General Abdul Majeed. It lacked direction, was ineffective and suffered from a lack of commitment to identify and bring all of the perpetrators to justice. This delay further hampered the gathering of evidence. Despite indications that there are links between the Karachi and Rawalpindi attacks, there has essentially been no communication between the investigators on those two cases.
xv. The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth. Despite their explanation to the Commission that they do not have a mandate to conduct criminal investigations, intelligence agencies including the InterServices Intelligence agency (ISI) were present during key points in the police investigation, including the gathering of evidence at the crime scene and the forensic examination of Ms Bhutto’s vehicle, playing a role that the police were reluctant to reveal to the Commission.
xvi. More significantly, the ISI conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects. Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police. What little direction police investigators had was provided to them by the intelligence agencies. However, the bulk of the information was not shared with police investigators. In fact, investigators on both the Karachi and Rawalpindi cases were unaware of information the ISI possessed about terrorist cells targeting Ms Bhutto and were unaware that the ISI had detained four persons in late October 2007 for the Karachi attack.
xvii. More broadly, no aspect of the Commission’s inquiry was untouched by credible assertions of politicized and clandestine action by the intelligence services – the ISI, Military Intelligence, and the Intelligence Bureau. On virtually every issue the Commission addressed, intelligence agencies played a pervasive role, including a central involvement in the political negotiations regarding Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and the conduct of the elections.
xviii. The Commission believes that the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms Bhutto’s assassination were, in most cases, deliberate. In other cases, the failures were driven by uncertainty in the minds of many officials as to the extent of the involvement of intelligence agencies. These officials, in part fearing involvement by the intelligence agencies, were unsure of how vigorously they ought to pursue actions that they knew, as professionals, they should have taken.
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