U.N. Probe: Bad Security Blamed For Bhutto Death

A U.N. commission on Thursday said the assassination of Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto could have been prevented. It blamed all levels of Pakistan's government for failing to provide adequate security. It also accused intelligence agencies and other officials of severely hampering the murder investigation.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The political course of Pakistan changed dramatically in the closing days of 2007 when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Just weeks earlier she'd returned from exile and was campaigning to return to power. Now a U.N. report has come to some damning conclusions about her assassination, among them that the government of then-President Pervez Musharraf, quote, "deliberately failed to investigate Bhutto's murder." NPR's Julie McCarthy is following this story from the capital, Islamabad. Hello.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, does the U.N. investigation answer the question that has never been answered of who exactly killed Benazir Bhutto?

MCCARTHY: No, that's still open. In fact, Heraldo Munoz, who is the Chilean diplomat among three members of this commission, said in a news conference at the U.N. late yesterday that determining who did it is the job of the Pakistani authorities. What this U.N. investigation lays out are the circumstances leading up to Benazir Bhutto's death. For example, the U.N. report said that security arrangements on the day she was killed were fatally insufficient. It faulted the police of Rawalpindi for hosing down the entire crime scene within hours of her killing. And it's talked about how it forced investigators to wade through sewers to collect evidence.

And according to the U.N., the news conference that was called by the Interior Ministry just 24 hours after her assassination saying the killer was found, the case was closed, was a deliberate whitewash that really kind of prejudiced any further investigation.

MONTAGNE: There's a conspiracy theory about members of Bhutto's own family being involved, and even including her own husband, who is the current president, Asif Ali Zardari.

MCCARTHY: That's right. It may sound shocking to a lot of people, but that theory is also widely heard on the streets of Pakistan, that President Zardari was involved in his wife's own murder. But it was completely debunked by this U.N. commission investigation. They said they had spoken to President Zardari on several occasions, and Chile's Ambassador Munoz said there is no credible evidence to support such a hypothesis. He said they spoke to more than 250 people and they determined these theories were based in opinion, not fact, and they didn't have any merit.

MONTAGNE: Now, did Pakistan officials cooperate with the U.N. investigation into Bhutto's death? I mean considering it sounds like the whole investigation suggests that they weren't very helpful in the first place.

MCCARTHY: Well, it's interesting. Of course, you know, the PPP Party, which is the one in power, was the one who wanted this investigation to begin with, but yes, the U.N. commission said that its own probe was, quote, "severely hampered" by government officials who are now serving.

The report talks about the need for criminal investigations into the role of extremists like the Taliban and al-Qaida, who made no bones about wanting Bhutto dead. But the U.N. also said the role of the establishment needed a thorough review. The U.N. investigators said that they were mystified, that's their word, by efforts of certain high ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources.

MONTAGNE: And any reaction thus far to this report from there in Islamabad?

MCCARTHY: Well, the president's spokesman said the findings confirmed what Bhutto's People's Party had maintained all along, that there was not adequate protection given to Benazir Bhutto, and they're also, of course, satisfied that the Bhutto family name really has been cleared by the U.N. investigation.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking to NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad. Thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Renee.

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