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Asia-Pacific

Government failed to prevent Bhutto's murder, says UN report

media A man holding a portrait of Benazir Bhutto at a makeshift memorial in Liaquat … Reuters

Pakistani authorities could have prevented the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a United Nations commission has concluded, in a report that also accuses officials of later whitewashing the former prime minister's death. The findings, released on Thursday, say the Pakistani government "failed profoundly" both to protect Bhutto and to properly investigate her murder.

Security measures on the day that a suicide bomber blew up Bhutto’s vehicle in the city of Rawalpindi were "fatally insufficient and ineffective", according to the UN-appointed independent panel.

Despite an attempt on her life three days earlier and a number of threats against her known to the intelligence service, the Pakistani government failed to provide Bhutto with the same stringent security arrangements it ordered for two other former prime ministers belonging to the main political party supporting then-president Pervez Musharraf, two months earlier.

The report described this oversight as "inexcusable".

Aside from their failings prior to the assassination, Pakistani police handled the subsequent investigation into Bhutto's death disasterously, the inquiry found.

In particular, the decision to hose down the crime scene within minutes of the blast, thereby destroying crucial evidence, goes "beyond mere incompetence" and could even be judged criminal.

The investigation was prejudiced from the start, the commission concluded, when the government prematurely blamed local Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and Al-Qaeda for the attack.

Intelligence agencies and government officials therefore deliberately hampered the police's investigation by discouraging investigators from pursuing other lines of inquiry, including the possibility that members of the Pakistani establishment were involved in the assassination.

The panel urged Pakistani authorities to ensure that further investigation into the Bhutto assassination "is fully empowered and resourced and is conducted expeditiously and comprehensively, at all levels, without hindrance".

The government has not yet commented on the report, which was requested by the Pakistan People's Party led by Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower and current president of Pakistan.

The commission spent a year conducting over 250 interviews with people witness to the attack and subsequent investigation. It was due to deliver its findings two weeks ago, but delayed its report to allow evidence from input from former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Saudi Arabia to be included.

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