Thursday, May 6, 2010

After the United Nations Inquiry

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Ameer Bhutto

The government is playing a cat and mouse game with the people with respect to the Benazir Bhutto murder inquiry. The process of bringing her murderers to trial has been subjected to inordinate delay and procrastination. The soil on her grave was still wet when the nation was told by the new leaders of the People's Party that democracy was the best revenge for her murder, the inescapable implication being that if they got themselves elected through the impending polls, no further action would be necessary in the matter.

Simultaneously, there was a demand for a UN probe into Benazir's murder, which defied logic since the frame of reference for this probe was to be limited to fact-finding rather than a proper criminal investigation, which the UN cannot carry out. What was the point of involving the UN in a long-drawn and expensive exercise in futility when Zardari already claimed to know who the killers were?

The real purpose of the United Nations Inquiry Commission (UNIC) can now be inferred - to buy time and clear Zardari from all suspicions. The first objective was achieved with dazzling success, as 28 months were needlessly wasted. But the latter objective remains unfulfilled in the UNIC report, reinforced by the subsequent UNIC declaration that no one has been absolved from guilt. The mystery behind the Zardari government's request to the UN to delay issuing the report for fifteen days is also easier to understand now in light of the report; to make a last-ditch effort to get the UNIC to clear the names of the present cabinet members, who were riding in the backup car, from all suspicions, which also could not be achieved. I suppose arm twisting the UN is not as easy as manipulating NAB.

The thorough criminal investigation that should have taken place over two years ago, which the UNIC report too deems crucial, is nowhere in sight. Instead, the People's Party leaders claim that they do not believe in revenge. Under which canon of law or logic does punishing killers fall under the classification of revenge? If that is revenge then what is justice? Are all the legal systems of the world which advocate punishment of the guilty based on vengeance? We are also told that the killers will be brought before the "people's court". What exactly does that mean? The people issue their verdict through the ballot box. Is the government suggesting that the killers will have to face a public vote? The very idea is ridiculous beyond imagination. All that is required is a comprehensive criminal inquiry, and then the law should be allowed to take its majestic course. The more the government procrastinates under what it thinks are clever pretexts, the more doubts and suspicions arise in the minds of the people.

Despite the UNIC's recommendation for a criminal investigation, another fact-finding committee has been constituted to probe into the issue of the hosing down of the scene of the attack within ninety minutes of the attack before evidence could be collected. This is certainly a critical issue because it reeks of a cover up, but why is this the only question receiving any attention? There are other questions of equal, if not greater, importance. For instance, why was a post-mortem not allowed to be carried out, not just on Benazir but even on the twenty or so other men who were killed in the attack? Even if the security provided by the state was inadequate, why was there a lapse in the security arrangements made by the party, which boasted that thousands of janisars were ready to guard Benazir with their lives? Who was in charge of these security arrangements?

Everyone is clamoring for a case to be filed against Pervaiz Musharraf after he is safely ensconced in London. Why was he allowed to get away with full presidential protocol? Above all, who benefited the most from Benazir's assassination? Is the government's modus operandi going to be to waste even more time by forming separate committees to probe into each of these questions individually, like the present committee looking into the hosing down issue? Would it not be more efficient to set up a judicial inquiry committee to probe into all the questions and present sound answers, which the UNIC could not do?

The highly suspicious disappearance of Benazir's backup car from the scene of attack should have come under strict investigative scrutiny by now. The whole idea behind a backup car is that it may be used if the vehicle carrying the VIP is disabled. But how can it be used if it is already full? That is why it is always kept empty or carries additional body guards. Who authorised the occupants to ride in this car? Why did this car bolt from the scene and why did it go to Zardari House instead of the hospital, where Benazir was being taken? The Aiwan-e-Sadar's spokesman Farhatullah Babar, in a TV interview, explained that a policeman told them to make way for Benazir's vehicle and to go to Zardari House, where Benazir was being taken, which is why they made a run for it.

This sounds pretty lame, since all they had to do was turn their heads and see that Benazir's vehicle had been disabled by the bomb blast and was going nowhere fast. Even if it had been moving and the backup car was in its way, they could have pulled over to one side instead of fleeing the scene. Because they did not pull over and transfer Benazir into the backup car to transport her to hospital, she remained in the disabled vehicle, slowly bleeding to death, while it limped along on its rims. At the very least, the occupants of the backup car cannot escape responsibility for gross neglect and dereliction of duty to their slain party leader. Why are they not being investigated? Are these holy cows above the law? Besides, why did they not tell the UNIC this story about being directed to leave the scene by a policeman? Why bring it up now? If they did tell this story to the commission, then it is obvious that it was rejected because the commission's report calls for an investigation into the disappearance of the backup car.

It is now being claimed that ninety per cent of the culprits involved in Benazir's murder have been arrested. This is news to just about everyone. Who are these people? How were they involved? What was their role? Were they simply the errand boys or the masterminds? One day the government says it is waiting for the UNIC report and the next day it claims to have arrested ninety per cent of the culprits. How did this come about, particularly since the UNIC report named no names? If their names were already known, then what was the expensive, time-consuming UNIC façade all about? If, as the government is claiming, Musharraf was the key figure to the plot, then what difference does it make if ninety or even ninety-nine percent of the errand boys are arrested as long as the mastermind walks free?

Was Musharraf really the mastermind? Even if he was, was he the sole mastermind or did he have partners in the crime? And what is the meaning of the "I still have a last bullet in my gun" statement that Musharraf made recently? Was it a veiled threat to unmask fellow conspirators should push come to shove?

All we have before us so far are ever-increasing unanswered disturbing questions. In the absence of any credible answers, people have started working out the truth for themselves.

The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.
Source : The News International

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