While one can perhaps understand the reason behind the UN’s decision to close its offices in Pakistan for three days, one fails to appreciate the logic behind the government’s ‘urgent’ request to the UN commission on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination to delay its report. The decision to close UN offices for three days is not without justification. Quite a few offices of UN aid agencies and those run by foreign (and Pakistani) NGOs have been bombed by fanatics, resulting in fatalities. For that reason one cannot rule out more such attacks when the UN commission finally releases its report on such an emotive issue as Ms Bhutto’s assassination. What is difficult to fathom is the president’s request to the UN panel to delay the release of its findings till April 15.
Approaching a foreign organisation for investigating an internal matter was by any standards something out of the ordinary. In recognised democracies, no self-respecting party, even if in opposition, would seek a UN investigation for an internal matter. In Lebanon, the people’s request for investigating Rafik Hariri’s murder was not without justification: Syria had a presence in Lebanon and could use its influence in government to obstruct investigation. In December 2007, when Ms Bhutto was killed, the PPP’s decision to ask for a UN investigation seemed to reflect its obvious lack of confidence in the impartiality of the Musharraf government. That the PPP repeated the demand when it assumed power made little sense showing that it had no confidence in its own security apparatus.
Explaining the reason behind the government request, an interior ministry spokesman said Islamabad wanted the UN investigators to include the statement of three heads of state who had forewarned Benazir of the assassination plot. The statement of one head of state had been recognised, and Islamabad now wanted the commission to record the views of the other two. Their evidence, according to the spokesman, was of “paramount importance”. Surely, the government must have known about the high alerts sounded by three world personalities all along, and if the UN commission was not aware of this major source of evidence, Islamabad should have told the UN body much earlier. Why the urgent request at this late stage when the report is ready? As it is, the commission’s terms of reference stood circumscribed from the very beginning. It was not supposed to fix guilt but to examine “the facts and circumstances” of the crime at Rawalpindi on Dec 27, 2007. There is no dearth of believers in conspiracy theories, and the government’s fumbling only adds to their numbers.