BB assassination case — a tragic trail

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After 10 years, the Benazir Bhutto assassination case was decided by the Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC). But it seems that the 10 year long proceedings were just the act 1 of this tragic drama. The act two has already started as the two senior police officers who were convicted for the dereliction of duty have filed the appeal challenging the severe punishment given to them by the ATC.

When Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government asked for an investigation by the UN, many television pundits and the opposition leaders criticised the decision. The PPP leadership was convinced that a non-local investigation agency would not have the courage to point the finger in the direction. It is therefore necessary to revisit the UN report on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination to get down to pointing the finger towards the right direction.

If we go through the UN report, it is clear that the commission has implicitly said it all. If some people cannot or do not want to read the report objectively, it’s their problem.

The report says: “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 have to pursue actions, which they knew, as professionals, they should have taken.”

The obvious fact is that the Karachi attack on BB’s procession and her assassination in Islamabad are interconnected. Furthermore, the report says, “The Director General of the ISI, Major General Nadeem Taj, met with Ms Bhutto in the early morning hours of 27 December at Zardari House in Islamabad. Directly knowledgeable sources told the Commission that they spoke both about the elections and about threats to Ms Bhutto’s life; versions differ as to how much detail was conveyed about the threats.

The Commission is satisfied, that at least, Major General Taj told Ms Bhutto that the ISI was concerned about a possible terrorist attack against her and urged her to limit her public exposure and to keep a low profile at the campaign event at Liaquat National Bagh (Liaquat Bagh) later that day.” Now agencies’ defence could be that they flagged the danger prior to the event. They wrote an internal memo that her life is danger. A layman on the street believes that if they were involved in BB’s assassination why would they pre-warn her.

The commission has noted that: “Several persons interviewed who have first-hand knowledge of the situation told the Commission that General Musharraf was furious when Ms Bhutto made her announcement (to come back) and, according to one source, believed that her action represented ‘a total breach of the agreement’. Other informed sources said that Ms Bhutto seemed equally stunned by General Musharraf’s reaction.”

The UN commission report has proved amply that first the security provided to BB on that evening was inadequate. Among all persons who died or were injured there was no policeman that shows that they were nowhere close to her. Subsequently, a number of actions taken by the Musharraf government officials’ show that they were trying to cover-up which confirms the suspicion that it was a conspiracy and not just Taliban and Al Qaeda attempt to kill a liberal leader, as Mr Rehman Malik has stated in his recent article in The News. Consider the following cover-up actions that have been highlighted in the report:

The hosing of the crime scene which destroyed evidence.

BB’s ‘dupatta’ an important piece of evidence goes missing.

On three different occasions, Professor Mussadiq asked CPO Saud Aziz for permission to conduct an autopsy on Ms Bhutto, and the CPO refused each request.

DCO Elahi’s instructions to the doctors to give their report to him keeping no hard and soft copy.

SP Khurram asserted that the PPP supporters could have become disruptive. Therefore, the police needed to wash away the blood from the scene as a public order measure. But according to the commission, no one familiar with the case agreed with his claim.

CPO Saud Aziz’s role in this decision is controversial. Many senior Pakistani police officials have emphasised that hosing down a crime scene is fundamentally inconsistent with Pakistani police practice.

The decision to hold the press conference was made by General Musharraf in which Brig Cheema briefed the media about the cause of death and interception of Baitullah Masud’s call. The tape of the call was never shared with the media to confirm whether the voice on the other side was of Baitullah or not.

Saud Aziz, the report, says dilly-dallied for two days to take the JIT team to the crime scene.

There are many such issues which emerge from the reading of the report. These issues couldn’t have been raised officially by any other investigation team in the country because of our typical power structure. To conclude one has to keep in mind that it is not important who ran away from the crime scene, whether BB died of bullet wounds or was hit by the sun-roof latch, the fact remains that she was assassinated. And that Musharraf government did not provide her the required security, knowing that her life was in danger and his officials also tried to cover up.

But having said that, and given the past history of assassinations in Pakistan there is hardly any chance that the real culprits will be brought to the book. And the tragic drama continues.

(The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com)