Sultan M Hali
BENAZIR Bhutto’s twelfth death anniversary is being observed today (27 December). She was brutally assassinated on the eve of the general election, in which she was expected to stage a comeback after nearly a decade in wilderness. Alas the nation was robbed of her leadership and the experience she had gained while in exile. It was being hoped that the maturity and sagacity she had gained during the years of being in wilderness would serve the nation well. Fate had more trials and tribulations in store for Pakistan. To date we are not certain who was responsible for this gory political murder although conspiracy theories abound galore. Most political murders in history have remained unsolved even in the most advanced countries. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Robert Kennedy et-al to name a few. In Pakistan too after seven decades, we are still in the dark about the real perpetrators of the assassination of our first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. In this milieu, it would be naïve to expect the enigma of the murder of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister and popular leader Benazir Bhutto to be resolved by involving the Scotland Yard or the UN to investigate months and years after the crime.
In this backdrop, let us examine the efforts of Dr Heraldo Muñoz Valenzuela, Chilean politician and diplomat and former Chilean Ambassador to the United Nations, who was the lead UN investigator into the probe of BB’s assassination. Muñoz presented his findings in his book ‘Getting away with murder: Behind the Investigation of Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan’, published by W. W. Norton & Company. The book was released in December 2013 in which the renowned diplomat rendered the salient features of his findings and the summary of the book in a curtain-raiser article in “Foreign Affairs” magazine. The summary and its redacted extracts coincidentally appeared in the local Press, a day prior to former President and Military dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s indictment by Anti-Terror Court (ATC) in BB’s murder case, prompting conspiracy theorists to find a connection between the timing of the two events.
Notwithstanding his intentions, Dr Muñoz concluded by expressing his apprehension that “the murder would remain unsolved because of absence of both capacity and willingness of the government and courts to solve the case.” Diplomats usually wrap their declarations in retractable nuances, but Muñoz has cast definite aspersions on elements of both Pakistan’s military and its premier intelligence agency ISI of being culpable of the crime, without delving deeper into the case. Under normal circumstances, his judgment would have been worthy of follow up but the manner in which the UN investigation was conducted, bulldozing meetings with the Army and ISI chiefs leaves gaping holes in his inquiry and casts doubts that he had a premeditated agenda.
Certainly, being at the helm of affairs when BB’s murder took place in broad daylight, General Pervez Musharraf must be questioned. However, instead of making it an across the board interrogation, Dr Muñoz focused on military personnel only, concluding that General Musharraf may have facilitated the killing by ignoring Ms Bhutto’s security needs declaring that it does not absolve Musharraf of moral and political responsibility. The deliberate omission of important witnesses lends credence to the conspiracy theories of shielding the real culprits. The Government of Pakistan expended millions of dollars of a cash starved national exchequer, only to reach such an inconclusive and dubious result, which smacks of odious aims; if the culpability for the crime was to be based on limited interrogations only—deliberately ignoring hard evidence.
Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and currently a live wire in the US-Taliban peace negotiations, comments on the book: “Like some of history’s other high-profile assassinations, including that of John F. Kennedy, the killing of Benazir Bhutto remains cloaked in rumor, speculation, and suspicion. Heraldo Muñoz and his colleagues found skeletons in many closets, smoking guns in many hands…” But even Khalilzad does not take into cognizance, the failure of Muñoz to follow up on some glaring clues and indulging in self-assumption. BB’s security was neither lacking during the political rally nor when she departed from it. Danger lurked but she was targeted when she stuck her head out of the bullet proof vehicle, she was traveling in. Apparently, she received a call on her cell phone to do so. Who made that call? The five other people in her vehicle, who survived the attack unscathed, and could have shed light on the assassination, were never questioned.
Nor was BB’s head of personal security, who beat a hasty retreat after the incident, instead of attending to his leader was called for interrogation. Interestingly, a diplomat of the caliber of Heraldo Muñoz failed to look at the legal aspect enshrined in every crime and encapsulated in the Latin phrase “Cui Bono” meaning “who benefits?” General Musharraf had already agreed as per the NRO to grant Ms Bhutto a third term as Prime Minister while retaining him as President. Perhaps maximum suspicion should be cast on those who gained utmost advantage from her untimely demise. Alas the enigma of BB’s murder remains shrouded in mystery and conjecture despite the Pakistan People’s Party having been in power for a full term. The verdict of death to former President Musharraf has raked up the enigma of Benazir Bhutto’s murder once again. Surely the wizened General also has an opinion on the mystery.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.