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Why Pak prefers Scotland Yard over the UN in Benazir case?

Pakistani establishment and specially President Pervez Musharraf will never agree to UN probe, writes Yashwant Raj.

world Updated: Jan 10, 2008 22:07 IST
Yashwant Raj

Pakistan People's Party leaders may go hoarse seeking a UN probe in the assassination of their leader Benazir Bhutto. But the Pakistani establishment and specially President Pervez Musharraf will never agree to it. Such probes can go horribly wrong.

Musharraf knows well perhaps how the best-known UN-determined probe has fared. The Scotland Yard assistance is something he is definitely more comfortable with - after all, the handle will remain in Pakistani hands.

In the first press conference addressed by the PPP leadership after Bhutto's death, her husband, Asif Zardari, demanded a probe the UN. By then, questions were being raised about the government version of what killed Bhutto.

The slain leader's son, political heir and PPP's newly appointed chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reiterated the party's demand at a press conference in London on Tuesday. "…Family's and party's request is for a UN-sponsored investigation," he said.

The Pakistanis would dread a UN probe like the one that went into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who died in February 1995 as explosives equivalent to 1,000 kg of TNT exploded as his motorcade passed a Beirut hotel.

Hariri was a Forbes 100 billionaire who made his money in Saudi Arabia and returned home to Lebanon becoming the prime minister in 1992. He set the war-ravaged country on the path of reconstruction with economic measures hugely welcomed worldwide.

Hariri resigned in 1995 during the crisis over the extension of the term of President Emile Lahoud. Soon after, he was assassinated. Lebanese opposition and many world governments suspected Syria of involvement as it favoured Lahoud's extension, which Hariri opposed.

The world was shocked. The UN sent a fact-finding mission, which in a report told the Security Council, "Lebanese investigation process suffers from serious flaws and has neither the capacity nor the commitment to reach a satisfactory and credible conclusion".

The Council passed a resolution - number 1595 - set up an international independent investigation commission "to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of all aspects of this terrorist act, including to help identify its perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices".

UN investigator Detlev Mehlis gave UN secretary general a report in October and saying top Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved in the planning of the details of the assassination plan.

The report said the plot "could not have been taken (place) without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security forces."

Some of those named by Mehlis were: head of Syrian military intelligence Asef Shawkat, Syrian foreign minister Faruq al-Shara and the Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. The Syrian government has strongly denied any involvement in the assassination.

Mehlis handed over the investigations to Serge Brammertz, whose report in December 2007 is far more cautious and doesn't blame the Syrians outright. He blamed the killing on "Hariri's political activities in the months and years leading up to his death".

Now, it would be very embarrassing for the Pakistani government and Musharraf in particular if an independent probe did in fact go into Bhutto's assassination and turned up anyone close to the military regime.

And his consent is necessary for the UN to set up an international independent commission. The Hariri commission was instituted with the approval of the Lebanese government. Scotland Yard's assistance may be a little more convenient. Wouldn't it?