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Critics doubt UN panel on Benazir murder case

News that a UN's Inquiry Commission will look into the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, has met with little celebration in Pakistan.

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, talks to Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, right, during a meeting in Islamabad.
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, talks to Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, right, during a meeting in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD // News that a United Nations Inquiry Commission will look into the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, has met with little celebration in Pakistan. Critics and analysts have already started questioning the effectiveness and usefulness of the commission, which will not conduct any investigation but only determine the facts and circumstances of the assassination.

The announcement of the formation of the three-member commission was made last week by Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, during his visit to Islamabad at a press briefing alongside Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Bhutto and the president of the country. Mr Zardari had promised a United Nations investigation into the murder of his wife, one of the most popular and charismatic politicians of the country, soon after the assassination on Dec 27 2007.

Bhutto had finished addressing a political rally in Rawalpindi when she was targeted in a gun and bomb attack. But the delay in the investigations a year after the murder had started to create deep discontentment within the members Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The seriousness of Mr Zardari to identify and go after the killers of his wife was questioned and scepticism grew over his foot-dragging. Many party members started to speak out in the press against the dithering by the government.

So the announcement of the formation of a UN commission, which is supposed to present its reports in six months, should have been commended and welcomed. But it seems Mr Zardari is alone in being pleased with the announcement. The government of Pervez Musharraf, the former president, had blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal militant commander who had unleashed a series of suicide bombings and attacks on government and military installations.

PPP leaders rejected the claims and findings of the Musharraf government. They were equally dismissive of a Scotland Yard investigation that had concluded - and agreed with Mr Musharraf's government's finding - that Bhutto did not die of a bullet wound. Instead, the British investigators said in their report that Bhutto died after hitting her head against the lever of her vehicle's sunroof as she was thrown forward by the force of the suicide blast.

Many here also criticise the UN for the way it conducted the investigations into the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. The slow and time-consuming investigation failed to come up with anything conclusive. Consequently, a UN fact-finding exercise that is limited in scope is seen as a futile exercise. "I think the real reason why people are critical is that it has become quite clear that the key question as to who was actually responsible for the killing will not be answered by the commission," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defence and political analyst based in Lahore.

"If a narrative has to be created, then there is no need for it as it is good for just historical record. To me, there was no need for the commission to be formed because the key question remains unanswered." Said Rafia Zakaria, a political analyst: "The Pakistani public's mixed feelings on this issue reflect the tense recent relationship of the country with issues of sovereignty and the question of interference in Pakistani politics."

"A Q Khan, drone attacks and now the investigation on Benazir's death are all part of this general discomfort ? and point to the question of how much of Pakistan belongs to Pakistanis and how much can be determined by outside forces." "The mixed feelings also represent the way Benazir's death has been appropriated in Pakistani political discourse ? the truth even if it emerges is unlikely to stem the barrage of theories that surround her death. Added to this is a general reticence toward 'international' commissions and the fact that going to them suggests that Pakistan cannot investigate crimes itself."

Op-ed and opinion pieces in the local newspapers are awash with critical analysis. "The reality is that such an investigation is unlikely to solve very much at all," said an editorial in The News, an English-language daily newspaper. The editorial stressed that the answers to Bhutto's brutal killing lie "within Pakistan" and that expressed surprise that why so little has been done by a government led by Bhutto's party, and with her widower as president of the country.

While the government officials said a UN inquiry is essential to preclude the possibility of criticism of partisan investigations, another set of criticism has surfaced. "The government has put itself in the odd position of arguing that it is capable of finding and punishing the Mumbai collaborators, but can't pursue those involved in the murder of its own party chief. Doesn't the same nexus of militants and shadowy quasi-state actors have a role in both?" wrote Cyril Almeida in Dawn, another English-language newspaper.

"Zardari's PPP has no credible answer. Worse, a do-nothing UN commission which leads nowhere throws up a damning question: is the PPP trying to gain political mileage from its leader's death at the expense of finding her killers?" @Email:smasood@thenational.ae