U.N. investigators blame Musharraf government, security lapses for Bhutto death

A new U.N. report that blames Pakistan's security establishment for failing to stop the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

UNITED NATIONS -- The military government of then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the hours leading up to her December 2007 assassination or to vigorously investigate her killing by a 15-year-old suicide bomber, according to a U.N. fact-finding commission report released Thursday.

The three-member commission, headed by Chilean diplomat Heraldo Muñoz, also accused unnamed high-ranking Pakistani authorities of obstructing the commission's access to military and intelligence sources.

The 65-page report -- which relied on interviews with 250 people -- provided a blistering account of government lapses that led to one of the most significant political assassinations in a generation. It said a police investigator deliberately sought to avoid solving the case out of fear of discovering the possible involvement of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.

"Bhutto's assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken," the report said. None of Pakistan's local or national security authorities "took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced."

The Dec. 27, 2007, attack took place as Bhutto was leaving a campaign rally in a neighborhood in the city of Rawalpindi. She died after the explosion forced her head into the handle of an escape hatch of a campaign vehicle.

Twenty-four other people were killed in the attack and 91 were injured

The report also provides a damning account of the role of Bhutto's political party, Pakistan People's Party, in providing backup security for her. Many of those individuals are now in the government of Bhutto's husband, President Ali Asif Zardari, who was partly involved in overseeing his wife's security.

The report charges Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who was responsible for providing supplemental security on the day of the attack, with fleeing the scene of the explosion, leaving Bhutto's vehicle isolated -- a decision that amounted to "a serious security lapse."

"The commission recognizes the heroism of individual PPP supporters, many of whom sacrificed themselves to protect her; however, the additional security arrangements of the PPP lacked leadership and were inadequate," the report said.

The harsh tone of the report appeared to take Pakistani authorities by surprise.

Minutes after a copy of the report was presented to Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, he cancelled a scheduled news conference and announced that he would be traveling back to Pakistan to personally deliver the information to his government.

The report says local police "inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation" by failing to collect evidence and by hosing down the crime scene hours after Bhutto's assassination. It also challenged the Pakistani government's assertion, made in a news conference shortly after Bhutto's assassination, that a Taliban militant, Baitullah Mehsud, was the mastermind behind the killing. The report said that telephone intercepts provided by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency were too ambiguous to prove Mehsud's role in the attack.

The U.N. commission said police investigators focused primarily on low-level operatives and ignored potential suspects "further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination."

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