April 27, 2008

Investigating the Bhutto case

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 6:04 am
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APRIL 27, 2008

By Shamshad Ahmad

THE question of investigating Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto�s assassination has been a big challenge for the government and a painful dilemma for our people. Everyone wants to know who killed Benazir Bhutto and why, and only an independent and credible enquiry will determine the truth.

The PPP has been calling for a UN probe similar to the one involving the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was killed in a car bombing in Beirut on Feb 14, 2005. President Musharraf, however, ruled out any UN involvement in investigating what he described as a �simple� murder and which he insisted could be handled internally with the help of Scotland Yard.

Whatever the reality, Benazir Bhutto�s assassination cannot be treated like a simple murder. It was a national tragedy and a seismic event with far-reaching ripple effects on the national as well as the global scene. No one has any faith or confidence in the ability of our government agencies to conduct a fair and transparent investigation that would credibly determine the facts.

The national and provincial assemblies have now unanimously adopted PPP-sponsored resolutions asking for a UN probe through an international independent investigation commission to be called Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Commission to identify the �culprits, perpetrators, organisers and financers� of the heinous crime and to bring them to justice.

Given the prevailing scepticism over the prospects of a fair and impartial investigation under government auspices, the PPP demand and its rationale for a UN probe would have made sense only if the PPP was not in power in Islamabad. By asking the UN to probe its leader�s assassination, the PPP is not only over-estimating the UN�s capability to conduct an impartial enquiry into its leader�s assassination but also giving itself a clear vote of no-confidence.

Yes, there is a striking similarity between the Bhutto assassination and the Hariri killing and the currency of a serious political crisis in both Pakistan and Lebanon at the time of the tragic incidents. Both were former prime ministers of their respective countries. In both countries, the incumbent presidents were seeking to prolong their terms with external support and through draconian measures.

In Lebanon, Rafik Hariri�s killing was a sequel to the power struggle in his country with the Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud seeking to prolong his term in office which was being opposed by the US and others. In the case of Pakistan, US-backed Musharraf was using unconstitutional powers as army chief to assault the judiciary and bypass the constitutional and legal hurdles to his re-election.

Syria�s alleged complicity in Lebanon was the external dimension of the Hariri case that led to the UN Security Council�s involvement in its investigation. Apparently, there is no such external dimension to the Bhutto case unless the PPP suspects a US hand in their leader�s killing. In that case, the question of a UN probe will not go beyond informal consultations in the ante-chambers of the Security Council.

Against this complex backdrop, no miracles or free and fair verdicts can be expected from any UN-sponsored probe. Irrespective of striking but circumstantial similarities in the assassinations of our former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and Lebanon�s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, there is a qualitative difference between the two situations.

As prime minister, Hariri had been at odds with the Syrian government and was fiercely resisting the continuing Damascus influence in Lebanon. He also opposed Syria�s efforts to have President Lahoud�s term extended beyond his normal tenure. He subsequently resigned, and was killed in a terrorist attack that triggered mass protests in Beirut and sparked anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon.

What makes the Hariri case totally different from the Bhutto case is the technical and legal basis on which the US and its partners in the UN Security Council were able to proceed under Chapter VII with a politically-motivated agenda against Syria. The Lebanese political crisis revolving around an externally-fanned internal power struggle was already on the formal agenda of the UN Security Council entitled the �Situation in the Middle East�.

In September 2004, the Council had adopted Resolution 1559 concerning the situation in the Middle East, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. This resolution provided an instant legal and political basis for the Security Council to take cognisance of Hariri�s murder case and to adopt Resolution 1595 on April 7, 2005, establishing an international independent commission to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigations of this terrorist act, and to identify its perpetrators.

Subsequently, despite objections from within Lebanon, the Security Council pressed ahead with the establishment of a controversial special tribunal through Resolution 1757 of May 30, 2007. Interestingly, this is the third international tribunal established by the UN, the other two being those on �genocides and humanitarian laws� violations� in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

For Washington, there could not have been a better opportunity to settle old scores with Syria. It used the UN Security Council to bring unprecedented pressure on Damascus for its withdrawal from Lebanon and also to neutralise its role in the context of the Middle East. It was also an opportunity for restraining Syria from its alleged complicity in the movement of arms and fighters across the eastern border into US-occupied Iraq. Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005 but did not fully cooperate with the UN investigation panel.

It was clearly a politically-motivated move in which the US was targeting Syria and Syrian-backed president in Lebanon, Emile Lahoud. In Bhutto�s case, the US may be sympathetic to the slain leader but in effect it is on the other side. It cannot afford allowing �Pakistan�s Lahoud� being targeted in the Council. From the historical, political and legal perspectives, one can�t therefore draw a straight parallel between the two cases.

We need to ponder seriously over the consequences of involving the UN Security Council in our country�s affairs. We must keep in mind that we do not have many well-wishers in the Security Council. Once the Council gets seized of our internal affairs, there would be no end to it. Those who want to destabilise us will find a convenient multilateral tool not only to further their multiple agendas against Pakistan but also to legitimise them.

The only dignified way for our PPP-led government is to own its responsibility and not pass the buck to the UN which like our country suffers no less serious credibility problems.

If our country has any semblance of independence and sovereignty left, it must hold the enquiry itself through a high-level independent commission headed by the Supreme Court�s re-instated chief justice, comprising eminent persons of a non-partisan stature, and assisted by foreign investigative and forensic experts.

We need another Hamoodur Rahman Commission to bare the truth.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.


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