U.N. Report Finds Faults in Pakistani Bhutto Inquiry
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, April 15, 2010
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A United Nations investigation into the assassination of the former opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has concluded that the failure of Pakistani authorities to effectively investigate the killing was “deliberate,” saying that the country’s powerful intelligence agency “severely hampered” local authorities.
The 65-page report, issued in New York on Thursday, did not answer the question of who killed Ms. Bhutto, or even give the precise cause of death. It was concerned instead with looking into the facts and circumstances surrounding her death in a suicide bombing and gun attack at a political rally in December 2007.
“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,” the long awaited report said. “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.”
The report catalogued a litany of failings on the part of the authorities before and after the attack that killed Ms. Bhutto, leaving an impression of purposeful obstruction and raising questions that the authorities had something to hide.
These included a decision by Saud Aziz, the police chief in Rawalpindi, the city where the assassination took place, to hose down the crime scene less than two hours after the attack. That forced investigators to spend seven hours following the water current and wading through a drainage sewer to collect valuable evidence, including a bullet casing.
The decision was taken after he received a call from army headquarters, possibly including Maj. Gen. Nadeem Ijaz Ahmad, then director general of military intelligence, the report said, citing anonymous sources. It called a later Pakistani inquiry into the decision “a whitewash.”
“Hosing down the crime scene so soon after the blast goes beyond mere incompetence,” the report said. “It is up to the relevant authorities to determine whether this amounts to criminal responsibility.”
The report also criticized Mr. Aziz for deliberately preventing an autopsy, eliminating a central piece of evidence.
The report, in large part, dismisses allegations that Ms. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who is now president, had some hand in her killing. It said that it was “patently unrealistic” for the police to have expected Mr. Zardari, who was presented with his wife’s body a full seven hours after her death in a coffin on an air base outside Rawalpindi, to have allowed an autopsy at that time.
Conspiracy theories involving Mr. Zardari “simply had no basis, no evidence to be treated as credible hypotheses,” said Heraldo Muñoz Valenzuela, a Chilean diplomat who was part of the three-member team that conducted the investigation. He spoke at a news conference at the United Nations that was broadcast live on the Internet.
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