Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to receive the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the assassination of former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto in April. At press time there was no indication whether and when Council members planned to discuss the report’s findings.
On 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto, who had twice served as Pakistan’s prime minister, was assassinated following a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, ahead of parliamentary elections. The assassination involved a suicide bombing in which more than twenty people were killed.
Following the assassination, the Security Council issued a presidential statement condemning “in the strongest terms the terrorist suicide attack by extremists” and urging all Pakistanis to exercise restraint and maintain stability in the country.
Conflicting information reports emerged concerning the details of the assassination and possible culpability for the attack. Some suggested that the attack bore trademarks of al-Qaida or Taliban militants in Pakistan. However, eyewitnesses reportedly described a sniper firing from a nearby building. It was unclear whether Bhutto had been shot before the suicide bomb was detonated. Questions were raised about how well the government had sought to protect her. The day after the assassination, the Interior Ministry announced that her death was caused not by gunshots or shrapnel but by a skull fracture sustained when the force of the blast caused her head to hit a lever on her car’s sunroof. At the request of her husband, now-President Asif Ali Zardari, no autopsy was conducted. London’s Scotland Yard, asked to assist by Pakistani authorities, concluded that a lone attacker fired shots at Ms. Bhutto before the explosives were detonated, but bullets were not the cause of death.
The government said al-Qaida-linked militant leader Baitullah Mehsud had ordered the attack. The US Central Intelligence Agency is also reported to have concluded that Bhutto’s killers were allied with Mehsud. Mehsud, who denied the allegations and was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in August 2009.
Some of Bhutto’s aides expressed dissatisfaction with the investigations and have speculated that the attack may have been carried out by allies of then-President Pervez Musharraf.
In a 2 February 2009 letter to the Council, in response to a request from the Government of Pakistan, the Secretary-General announced the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry. The Commission was charged with determining “the facts and circumstances of the assassination”. He said the three-member Commission would be of a limited duration and would not conduct a criminal investigation. That was for the Pakistani authorities, he added. The Government of Pakistan guaranteed the Commission the “privileges, immunities and facilities necessary for the independent conduct of the inquiry”.
In June 2009 Chilean Ambassador to the UN Heraldo Muñoz was appointed head of the Commission. Marzuki Darusman, a former attorney general of Indonesia, and Peter Fitzgerald, a retired senior official of Ireland’s police force and a former UN official, were named as the other two members.
The Commission began work on 1 July 2009 and made its first visit to Pakistan later that month, followed by trips in September, November and a final trip in February 2010. During the visits the Commission met with President Zardari, former President Musharraf, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and other Interior Ministry and police officials. During the July trip, Ambassador Muñoz downplayed expectations when he told journalists the report would not include “smoking guns in terms of names” of culprits. Also in July, a spokesman for Zardari said the independent investigation had been requested in order to avoid allegations of partiality.
Key Recent Developments
In a 30 December 2009 letter to the Council, the Secretary-General granted the Commission a three-month mandate extension, requested by Muñoz, from 31 December 2009 to 31 March 2010, “to enable the Commission to complete its inquiry and prepare the report”.
The Commission conducted a final visit to Pakistan in February. It met again with President Zardari and with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Muñoz also met with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the Pakistani army and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director-General of Inter Services Intelligence. The Commission also heard from civil society members. Initially the Commission request to interview General Kayani and other top serving military generals was rejected, even though the terms of reference guaranteed the Commission “freedom to interview representatives of governmental, as well as other institutions and, in principle, any individual whose testimony is considered necessary for the fulfilment of its mandate”. Eventually the interview with Kayani was approved.
Pakistani officials continued to conduct their own investigations. In March 2010 Interior Ministry officials revealed that four retired military personnel were under investigation in connection with the assassination. The four, who disappeared just before the December 2007 attack, are among a group of eight thought to be connected to Ibad Ur Rehman, a main suspect in Pakistan’s investigation. This was the first time military personnel were implicated in the investigations.
A possible option for the Council is to request a briefing from Muñoz.
Selected Presidential Statement
Selected Secretary-General’s Letters