Bhutto Probe: Former ISI Chief Refused to Comply With UN

Rezaul H Laskar/Islamabad
Bhutto Probe: Former ISI Chief Refused to Comply With UN

Former ISI chief Hamid Gul, who was named by slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto among those posing a threat to her life, refused to be quizzed by the United Nations commission that probed her December 2007 assassination, according to the panel's head.

In a letter written to ex-President Pervez Musharraf two months before she was killed, Bhutto had named Gul, former Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and ex-Intelligence Bureau chief Ijaz Shah as the persons who should be investigated if she was murdered.

Gul refused to be interviewed by the UN commission that probed the facts and circumstances of Bhutto's assassination, the panel's head, Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, said.

The UN panel was initially told that Pakistan's intelligence agencies and army were "off limits."

Army and intelligence officials agreed to be interviewed only after the commission's insistence, Munoz said in an interview to Express 24/7 news channel.

The panel met Musharraf during its probe but the interview was subject to the condition of confidentiality, Munoz said.

He also described as "inexcusable" and "irresponsible" the disappearance of a black Mercedes that was to have served as Bhutto's back-up vehicle in case of an attack on her. The vehicle left the site in Rawalpindi after she was attacked by a suicide bomber on December 27, 2007.

Senior PPP leaders Rehman Malik -- currently the Interior Minister, Babar Awan -- now the Law Minister and Farhatullah Babar were travelling in the bulletproof black Mercedes.

According to eyewitnesses, the Mercedes left Liaquat Bagh, the site of Bhutto's rally in Rawalpindi, before her vehicle and was nowhere to be seen afterwards.

The UN commission said it was "incredible" that the occupants of the Mercedes drove all the way to Zardari House, some 20 minutes away, before they became aware that Bhutto had been injured in the attack.

The UN panel's report has indicted the then Musharraf regime for failing to provide adequate security to Bhutto despite reports of numerous threats to her life. It has also highlighted several security lapses linked to the assassination.

The report described the Musharraf regime's failure to protect Bhutto as "inexcusable."

Musharraf's aide Rashid Qureshi has denied allegations that the former President was responsible for Bhutto's death and claimed that the UN panel's report was based on rumours.

Qureshi also said Bhutto exposed herself to risks in Pakistan even though the ISI had warned her not to attend the rally in Rawalpindi, following which she was targeted by a suicide bomber.

The UN commission's report was critical of the police investigation of the assassination and said former Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz even "impeded" the probe.

The commission said police were "subordinate" to intelligence agencies in collecting evidence and conducting investigations.

The report said: "Given the historical and possibly continuing relationships between intelligence agencies and some radical Islamist groups, the agencies could be compromised in their investigations of crimes possibly carried out by such groups."

The report said Saud Aziz was not acting alone and suggested that he was taking orders from Maj Gen Nadeem Ejaz Ahmed, who was then head of Military Intelligence. Pakistani authorities have removed seven senior police and civil officials from active service on the ground of being linked to lapses pointed out by the UN commission.

The government also terminated the contractual service of Brig (Retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema, the former interior ministry spokesman who claimed Bhutto had died after hitting her head on a lever in her vehicle.

The Federal Investigation Agency team probing Bhutto's death is expected to question the seven police and civil officials who have been made officers on special duty.

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