Bhutto’s UN murder probe
It is time the PPP government levelled with the people and admitted that there really is not going to be any UN investigation per se into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Why? Because the Government of Pakistan has failed to pursue the investigation with any seriousness, nor is it clear as to what exactly it wants. Over time, the impression, which is beginning to turn into conviction, has grown that the Zardari government is merely using the UN in pursuit of its own agenda. And that, of course, is something the UN will not permit itself to be used for.
There have been so many mixed signals from Pakistan that it is no longer clear to anyone in New York what the intentions of the government in Islamabad are. In fact, the very worst, the most cynical interpretation is being placed on Islamabad’s contradictory and changing position.
To begin with, when the demand for a UN probe was first made by the PPP, it was not in power. General Musharraf was. Once the PPP took office, its first order of business should have been the formation of a national judicial commission to investigate the assassination. It did no such thing and has shown no such inclination.
Strange statements have flowed out of responsible members of the PPP government. On July 23, 2008, it was said that the UN investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto could cost up to $100 million. On December 25, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, “It was Shaheed Benazir’s demand that her assassination be investigated by the UN.”
What an absurd statement! Does it mean that Benazir knew she was going to be assassinated and once that event came to pass, the investigation should be handed over to the United Nations?
On December 27, her grieving spouse stunned the world by declaring that that he “knew the killers of Benazir Bhutto”. I am not the first to make the point that failing to share information about the perpetrators of a crime amounts to collaboration. There has been no follow-up explanation of this extraordinary claim and no-one from among the leading lights of the PPP has had the courage or the decency to ask the leader for details.
Let me go back to the UN and how and in what manner it was first invited to get involved in the Benazir murder probe. On July 10, 2008, during a meeting between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a broad understanding was said to have been reached on certain issues concerning UN help for Pakistan’s efforts to have the assassination investigated.
The meeting followed a request to the Secretary General from the Foreign Minister to establish an international commission to identify those responsible for the assassination and to bring them to justice. Ban indicated that further consultation with Pakistan and others within the UN would be required to examine the modalities and structure of such a commission.
At the time, Pakistan claimed that a broad understanding had been reached on the nature of the proposed commission, unhindered access to all sources of relevant information and measures to safeguard the objectivity, impartiality and independence of the commission.
The UN was more guarded in its comments. “While we’ve made some progress in terms of arriving at a broad understanding of some issues, there is the need for further consultations with Pakistan, and possibly with other states, about the scope and the mandate of this proposed committee,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters. “We’re trying to help Pakistan as we can,” he added.
By early October, the Secretary General made it clear that the commission that Pakistan wanted the UN to set up would not be an investigative unit, but a fact-finding body. “This is not going to be an investigation,” he told his monthly press conference.
Ban said that during his discussions with President Zardari in September, they agreed that there would be “some sort of a commission under the United Nations.” Discussions were still going on technical matters such as who should be appointed commission members, how it should be funded and under what time frame and scope should it function.
“We’re trying to work out solutions,” Ban said, adding, “We’re still discussing it with the Pakistan government.” When asked why it was taking so long to set up the commission, he said that it could take “a little bit longer”, but will be done “soon”.
Pakistan in the meantime shifted its position as to the financing of the inquiry. Foreign Minister Qureshi said that as regards the funding mechanism, it should not be such that Pakistan alone would have to bear the cost. But, he said, discussions between the two sides were still going on.
The last UN press release makes it clear that there has been no progress on the issue. On December 26, 2008, Ban Ki-moon expressed the hope that an independent Commission of Inquiry into the circumstance of the killing of Benazir Bhutto could be established soon. He said his office had consulted the Pakistani government on the nature and scope of the Commission, which Pakistan has asked him to establish to identify those responsible for the assassination and to bring them to justice. Ban indicated that further consultation with Pakistan and others within the UN was needed to examine other modalities and the Commission’s structure, including its scope and mandate.
The statement from the UN chief’s office after his meeting with Zardari said the UN “would see what it could (do) to support the request for an independent fact-finding commission,” adding that it would “explore further the precise modalities and brief of such a commission.”
A UN source who wished to remain anonymous said that he doesn’t know what goes on in meetings between Foreign Minister Qureshi and Ban or Zardari, but from the papers the impression at the UN is that the Pakistani government wants a commission which functions under its control. The UN is of the view that if it has to do the investigation, the commission should be under UN control and have a free hand to do its work. The commission should be able to visit any place, interview anyone and seek any related document.
“What the Pakistan government is trying to do is to write the terms of reference for a UN commission,” the source said. That is not acceptable to the UN. So as an alternative, the UN has offered to provide experts borrowed from various countries to join a Pakistani commission, but Islamabad wants a UN commission, while it wishes to limit its investigative work.
Islamabad has been backtracking in various other ways too. When Qureshi first made the request in July 2008, he said his government would bear all costs. Later, when rough estimates were given, Islamabad had second thoughts and urged the UN to seek help from other nations, a long drawn out process and a classic example of delaying tactics.
To this grim story, a bit of comic relief was provided in January by PPP’s unelected and unelectable secretary general Jahangir Badar, who declared that the UN would begin its investigation in January. He made the statement after returning from New York.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org