Interview: Delaying release of Bhutto report might help Pakistani constitution reform: Xinhua News

Interview: Delaying release of Bhutto report might help Pakistani constitution reform: expert

UNITED NATIONS, Apr. 1, 2010 (Xinhua News Agency) -- The delay in releasing a UN report on the assassination of former Pakistani Primer Benazir Bhutto might help advance Pakistan's constitution reform, an expert said.

"The Pakistani government might be trying to time the report's release according to its own political goals," Hassan Abbas, a senior advisor at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a fellow at the Asia Society, told Xinhua in an interview.

It appears the delay has already helped, said Abbas, a former member of of Pakistan's police service.

On Wednesday, after 10 months of heated debate and one day after President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's husband, requested the UN to delay releasing the report, all major political parties in Pakistan reached consensus on a constitutional amendment bill.

The bill is expected to be presented next week for a vote in the lower and upper houses of parliament.

Abbas said that with such a hotly debated piece of legislation moving its way through Pakistan's government, it's possible that Zardari and his ruling Pakistan People's Party did not "want to jeopardize its victory lap with any negative fallout from the UN report."

The United Nations had planned to release a report on Tuesday from a probe into the December 2007 assassination of Bhutto, but just hours before a press conference at UN headquarters, it was announced that Zardari urgently requested a delay until mid-April.

The Pakistani president said before the report is released, he wants the UN to quiz four international personalities who had prior information on threats to Bhutto's life.

The four people are Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and the United Arab Emirates intelligence chief.

In response to the request, the United Nations said it will not reopen the probe into Bhutto's assassination, and that the report will be released on April 15.

How Pakistan's government learned that the report did not contain information from those four personalities remains to be seen. The United Nations denies showing the report to the government, insisting that even the secretary-general himself did not know the contents of the report.

Abbas, who still maintains contact with members of Pakistan's security sector, said that he thought the UN team failed to interview a number of "very important people," such as the law enforcement officials who were responsible for cleaning up the crime scene and a couple of people Bhutto was in contact with in the last hours of her life about security concerns.

"The UN never reached out to those people," he said, adding that the fault might lie with the mandate given, not the methodology.

A UN fact-finding team was asked to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the assassination with the understanding that the assessment of criminal liability would remain in the hands of Pakistani authorities.

The UN commission has been granted a technical extension until the release of the report but it is unclear whether the team will use the next two weeks to question any more officials.

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