The report stated in black and white what Pakistanis sometimes have to whisper: that a nexus of elites, known as the establishment, whose core is formed by top military and intelligence officers but also includes politicians and bureaucrats, has busied itself with everything from rigging elections to making deals with militants.
U.N.’s Bhutto Report Says What Pakistanis Already Know About Spy Agency and Army
NY Times | April 16, 2010
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The long-awaited United Nations report on the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto did not answer the central question of who killed her, but did put its finger directly on what remains the most troubling part of Pakistan’s reality, the dominance of its military and intelligence services over civilian leaders.
A presidential spokesman said Friday that the report — 65 pages that made repeated references to the unchecked power of the military and its intelligence wing, known by the initials ISI — would reinvigorate the government’s own investigation that began last year. But in many ways it served to underscore the government’s inability to push it forward nearly three years after Ms. Bhutto’s death, even though her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is now president.
The report stated in black and white what Pakistanis sometimes have to whisper: that a nexus of elites, known as the establishment, whose core is formed by top military and intelligence officers but also includes politicians and bureaucrats, has busied itself with everything from rigging elections to making deals with militants. Ms. Bhutto’s father, a flawed but charismatic leader, is broadly believed to have been executed because he was too threatening to its interests.
Some in Pakistan expressed delight at the findings, saying the exposure would force an uncomfortable conversation in Pakistan, where a rambunctious, young media broadcasts around the clock.
“This is going to upset the establishment,” said Kamran Shafi, a columnist for Dawn, a daily newspaper. “I hope very much it reacts in not a very good way. It needs to be exposed.”
Others disagreed, saying it would have little effect. The coverage on Friday was more notable for what it left out than for what it said, said Khaled Ahmed, an author and columnist for the Friday Times, a weekly newspaper. There were few references to the most scathing part of the report about the military’s role.
“The report is quite damning, but the way it’s presented on TV is inconclusive,” Mr. Ahmed said. “We don’t know who did it. That’s the kind of impression that will be created here.” He added: “Very clearly there’s a reluctance to point to the army. This is what everybody has ignored.”
The reason, he said, is part psychology and part national identity. Pakistan’s army has long represented the central and most crucial part of this country’s idea of itself, a symbol of protection against Pakistan’s mortal foe, India. That narrative is taught in textbooks and reinforced in society, and going against it is like attacking yourself. “The army has a geopolitical mind that is unchanging, and that’s what people love,” Mr. Ahmed said.
Pakistan is not the only country like this. In Turkey, the military exerted extensive control over civilian affairs for decades, deposing elected governments, working behind the scenes to foment unrest, and even executing a civilian prime minister.
But in Pakistan the influence is more overt, and the report points it out in painstaking detail in the example of the police investigation of Ms. Bhutto’s killing. The intelligence agency was portrayed as having been the invisible hand guiding the police.
The small bit of police work the report commended — a team of investigators’ searching through sewers after the assassination site had been prematurely hosed down — stopped abruptly when a senior officer, Gen. Abdul Majeed, took over and began to base the inquiry on information he had received from the intelligence agency.
The agency has no jurisdiction in the criminal justice system, and civilian police officers often complain that intelligence officials destroy their efforts to build a case simply by plucking suspects out of their custody into a black zone. The report said that members of the investigation team it spoke with “all but admitted that virtually all of their most important information” came from the intelligence agency.
The attack’s aftermath was a series of stunning failures. Ms. Bhutto’s chase vehicle, a bulletproof Mercedes, drove off, leaving her alone without backup or any police protection. Her car, whose tires were flat from the blast, stalled en route to the hospital, leaving her stranded by the side of the road, a development the report found “extraordinary.” A private vehicle that belonged to an acquaintance later arrived.
It cataloged inconsistencies. The government of Pervez Musharraf, the president at the time, announced at a national news conference that she had died from hitting her head on the lever of her car’s escape hatch. But one police team that the report’s investigators trusted found no blood or tissue on the handle. Police team members reported seeing people cleaning the vehicle, even though investigations were still going on.
Then there was outright prevarication. Scotland Yard investigators, who also conducted an investigation at the time, based much of their findings on information from the police, the report said. But the report said that the United Nations commission found “the accounts the Rawalpindi police provided to Scotland Yard to be largely untrue.”