Thursday, April 22, 2010

UN COMMISSION'S COMMAND PERFORMANCE

By Syed Talat Hussain

The commission, from the very word go, builds up its argument of ‘rogue establishment’. This dimension of the report makes it arguably the most important document to have been produced in recent times. A document that is likely to become an international reference point against Pakistan’s ‘establishment’

Washington has tried to do it, but has failed. Delhi has attempted it several times, but without much luck. However, a three-member commission with a small staff, and funded ironically by the Pakistani taxpayers’ money and endorsed by the country’s president, has finally pulled it off: Pakistan’s army, the entire range of intelligence agencies, the ISI, the MI and the IB, and the much-maligned shadow government comprising retired officials and members of the police department, have been formally declared to be part of a rogue set-up. A set-up that not only creates mayhem internationally, but also does not baulk at killing its leaders.

This devastating indictment runs through the entire report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances surrounding the assassination of the former Pakistani prime minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto. While the commission’s press conference last week, where the report was released, took extra pains to state their neutrality, focused reading of the fine print of the report makes it abundantly clear that there is nothing neutral or ‘apolitical’ about the report’s message. This is so especially when it comes to narrating the linkages between the decisions such as official security plans and Ms Bhutto’s murder and also events after the assassination, like the hosing down of the scene of the crime and the latter-day official stance that the former prime minister had been killed by Baitullah Mehsud’s murderous gang.

The commission, even though fact-finding in nature, becomes exceptionally generous in apportioning blame and drawing conclusions which, while seemingly are directed at individuals in high places, in fact implicate in the murder plot the institutional set-up of both the army and the intelligence agencies. With the skill of consummate researchers, the writers of the report contextualise their findings (read judgements) by referring to past cases of unsolved murders. In this choice selection, they make it a point to include the controversial killing of Baloch nationalist leaders, which though an important domestic issue, has little or no relevance to Ms Bhutto’s murder. The only reason one can think of for putting these names in the list is that Pakistan’s intelligence operatives’ names have been associated with these killings, particularly by Baloch nationalist circles.

Thus the commission, from the very word go, builds up its argument of ‘rogue establishment’, augmenting it all the way to the last page, with a plethora of suggestions, insinuations and clever juxtaposition of known facts. The commission’s fundamental premise in the report is that the murders of the past and that of Ms Bhutto’s were all ‘political assassinations’, which, by inference, means that those in power had a hand in it. (The section is titled ‘Political assassinations and impunity in Pakistan’.)

This inference does tally with popular wisdom in Pakistan. It also echoes the country’s drawing-room whispers and street chatter, which are not always wrong in their assessments. From that standpoint, blaming the then wielders of power like General Pervez Musharraf and his co-sharers of political authority is nothing extraordinary. But the commission’s report does not train the guns of suspicion and findings towards a limited set of individuals at the top. Its narrative includes threads of an elaborate plot, which, according to its findings, could only have been hatched by institutional connivance and conspiracy. In hurling the blame at General Musharraf, the commission indicts his entire team: former DG ISI and at present the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, his predecessor and at present corps commander Gujranwala, Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj, the then DG MI, Major General Nadeem Ijaz, who is at present Log Area Commander Gujranwala, and also a score of other high-ranking officials representing army-related or army-dominated institutions.

The commission’s depiction of these individuals’ deeds is mostly in dark colours; their actions are shown to be part of a well planned but hastily handled murder plot. Page 30, para 120, illustrates this point well. Major General Nusrat Naeem, then ISI deputy director general, is shown to be a shaky liar. The commission says that he had initially denied making any calls to the hospital to confirm Ms Bhutto’s death, but when “pressed further”, he acknowledged he had made the call, “before reporting to his superiors, to hear directly from Professor Musadiq that Ms Bhutto had died.”

Similarly, on page 33, para 133, another hugely controversial point is quoted as fair fact. Citing anonymous sources, the report suggests that city police chief Saud Aziz did not act independently in deciding to hose down the crime scene, but had received a call from Army Headquarters (General Kayani’s command centre) to order the hosing down of the crime scene. The report quotes yet another unnamed source that attributes the decision to General Nadeem Ijaz. In the same para, it cites police officials saying “everyone knows” who had issued the orders.

These elements of the report, when read with the section on “threats and possible culpabilities regarding the assassination”, make an international case against Pakistan’s military and the intelligence set-up. In para 201, page 47, the commission’s report reads like a page from quarterly assessments issued by bodies like the International Crisis Group. The commission, going beyond its declared mandate, goes on to postulate that the jihadi groups have developed a nexus with elements in Pakistan’s establishment and that sufficiently explains Ms Bhutto’s assassination since these partners in crime were threatened by her return to power. Amazingly, the commission does not qualify its judgment by directing its accusatory finger to some “elements” alone. On the next page, the commission defines the establishment in most comprehensive terms: “the military high command and the intelligence agencies form the core of the Establishment and are most permanent and influential components (of the term)”.

This dimension of the report makes it arguably the most important document to have been produced in recent times. A document that is likely to become an international reference point against Pakistan’s ‘establishment’ in present and future domestic and international campaigns.

The writer is a leading Pakistani journalist
Courtesy DAILY TIMES, April 22, 2010

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