ISLAMABAD, Dec 26: As millions of PPP supporters across the country mark the first death anniversary of their leader Benazir Bhutto on Saturday, mystery still surrounds the manner in which she was killed, the motive for the assassination and the identity of the mastermind of the attack that rocked the country.
Except that some middle-rankers have been arrested and taken to court, there has been no breakthrough in the case so far.
The PPP which came into power after the Feb 18 elections and has all the resources at its disposal is yet to unveil the story behind the gruesome murder.
The PPP had rejected the previous government’s claim that Ms Bhutto had been killed by militants and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who is now head of the state, had termed the Pakistan Muslim League-Q as ‘Qatil (killer) League’.
Many politicians, even some in the PPP, believe that the party’s demand for a UN investigation into the assassination was justified when it was in the opposition, but now the government can initiate a probe and bring the perpetrators to justice because there are leads which can help solve the case.
Interviews with different people, including PPP leaders, revealed that not only the government headed by former president Pervez Musharraf was responsible for the security lapse but the party’s own arrangements for protecting Ms Bhutto were also not in place when she was attacked.
It was observed that Ms Bhutto had no security cover when she left Liaquat Bagh after addressing the public meeting and even her party’s substitute vehicle in which her security adviser Rehman Malik and Babar Awan were sitting was not in backup position.
Senior security officials who were responsible for protecting Ms Bhutto now hold top positions in the federal and Punjab governments.
Immediately after the assassination, the then government blamed tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud for the killing and arrested some people on suspicion of their involvement.Scotland Yard was called but only for ascertaining the cause of death.
Most of the questions which arose after the assassination remain unanswered, especially regarding the security lapse and unwillingness of the present government to reveal the whole story.
Some of the unanswered questions are: Why was the venue washed out within an hour after the incident and on whose orders? Why were the gates of Liaquat Bagh opened to allow people to come close to Ms Bhutto’s vehicle? Why was there no security vehicle around her when she was surrounded by people? Why did the backup PPP vehicle which was supposed to be behind the former prime minister’s jeep leave the venue of the public meeting? How did other people receive bullet injuries if she was shot by only one man shown in video clips by private TV channels? Why was her vehicle not allowed to rush to the Civil Hospital half a kilometre away from the scene, compelling her driver to proceed to the Rawalpindi General Hospital (RGH) via the busy Murree Road? Why was autopsy not conducted? Who was the man in the video clip shooting Ms Bhutto? Why did Baitullah Mehsud deny that he was behind the assassination? Why are top security officials responsible for her security still enjoying top positions? Why is the government relying on the United Nations and not investigating the case itself? and was conspiracy hatched within the country or an external hand was involved in it?
“We need an impartial and transparent investigation. Therefore we are waiting for the UN,” Law Minister Farooq H. Naek said.However, the UN is yet to form a commission which will appoint investigators. “We were informed by the UN that the commission will be constituted very soon,” the minister said.
He said an investigation by the government would defeat the basic aim of seeking an impartial inquiry by the UN so that on-one could raise any objection.
Former foreign affairs secretary Shamshad Akhtar said at a press conference a few months ago that the UN lacked expertise and capability to probe into the case. “If you send any such case to the UN for investigation, it means you send it into the cold storage,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik claimed that he had done a lot on his own to investigate the case and he would provide information to the UN when it would start the probe.
After the first attack on her on Oct 18 last year, Ms Bhutto had accused the authorities of not providing adequate security and hinted that they might have been complicit in the bomb attack.
Later, she stopped short of blaming the government directly, saying she had more to fear from unidentified members of a power structure which she described as allies of the “forces of militancy”.
Among the security officials who were responsible for her security, the then Rawalpindi district police chief Saud Ali has been posted as Multan’s DPO, the then Rawal Town SP Khurram Shahzad is serving as Rawalpindi Crime Range SSP, DSP Ishtiaq Shah has been transferred to Special Branch and the official in charge of Ms Bhutto’s security in Rawalpindi Ashfaq Anwar has been promoted as SP.
It is learnt that the security plan for the meeting had three tiers around her and the incident took place within the outer one.
Presence of snipers on nearby buildings cannot be ruled out because some other people also received bullet injuries.
PPP leader Safdar Abbasi, who was accompanying Ms Bhutto in her vehicle during her last moments along with his wife Naheed Khan, said he could not understand why the government was not investigating the case despite having all the resources and evidence.
He said there could be a public backlash if the government failed to solve the mystery.
He said four security vehicles were supposed to be on all sides of Ms Bhutto’s vehicle but not one was around at the time of the attack. “Unfortunately, PPP’s vehicle which was meant to serve as a backup in case of an emergency was also out of the scene. Mr Malik and Mr Awan were in that vehicle,” Mr Abbasi said.
Ms Bhutto had narrowly escaped the Oct 18 Karachi blast which killed about 140 people. The site of this blast was also washed soon after the incident.
Following the attack in Rawalpindi, Ms Bhutto’s bullet-proof vehicle which had been damaged badly was not allowed to proceed to the Civil Hospital, compelling the driver to rush to the Rawalpindi General Hospital 5kms away on the Murree Road which usually remains choked with traffic.
“Actually, I was not familiar with the routes in Rawalpindi and the location of the Civil Hospital. Secondly, the road towards left from Liaquat Bagh which leads to the Civil Hospital was blocked by police, leaving no option for us but to proceed to the RGH which has now been renamed after Ms Bhutto,” Mr Abbasi said.
He said Ms Bhutto was shot at from four sides and one bullet hit her in the head that caused her death, after which a blast took place that caused more deaths.
“I am a doctor, I felt Ms Bhutto’s pulse on the way to hospital and realised that she had expired. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the hospital because of the traffic jam on Murree Road,” Mr Abbasi said.
Ms Bhutto’s vehicle was damaged so badly that it stopped near the hospital.
At that time, Sherry Rehman, who was following the vehicle, reached there, Ms Bhutto was shifted into her car and taken to the hospital.
Naheed Khan said people who had gathered on the gate of Liaquat Bagh came in front of Ms Bhutto’s vehicle and blocked the way. Ms Bhutto stood out of the sunroof to wave to the crowd. “I tried to pull her down but she was annoyed and told me that ‘you people also want to keep me away from the people like the establishment’. After hearing these words, I did not dare to advise Ms Bhutto again not to expose herself in that insecure atmosphere,” Ms Khan said.
“She was a brave lady and she increased her appearance in public whenever she received threats to her life. She demonstrated the same courage when she went to Peshawar and Quetta for addressing public meetings,” Ms Khan said.
Nobody knows if the puzzle of Ms Bhutto’s murder will ever be solved or this murder also will remain unresolved like those of prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, president Ziaul Haq and her brother Murtaza Bhutto.