April 18th, 2010
05:52 PM ET

Pakistani officials suspended after U.N.'s Bhutto report

Seven senior Pakistani officials have been suspended from their positions and prohibited from leaving the country as a result of a United Nations commission report on the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's information minister told CNN Sunday.

The officials were senior police officers and senior administration officials who held different positions at the time of Bhutto's death, said Qamar Uz Zaman Kaira, federal information minister.

The senior police officials include Chaudhry Adbul Majid, Saud Aziz and Yasin Farooq. Irfan Elahi, a senior administration official of the Civil Service - a top official in Rawalpindi District - is also on the list. The contract of an eighth official, Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a former Interior Ministry spokesman, was terminated in connection with the U.N. report, Kaira said.

"After the investigation, their future will be decided," Kaira said.

The three-member U.N. inquiry commission, in a scathing report issued Thursday, said former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's military-led government failed to protect Bhutto and that the suicide bombing that killed her "could have been prevented." In addition, police deliberately failed to pursue an effective investigation into Bhutto's death, the panel said.

Cheema, who was working on a contract basis for the Civil Defense Department, held a news conference the day after Bhutto's slaying to detail the cause of her death. He told reporters that Bhutto died from a head injury when the force of the blast caused her to hit her head on a lever in the vehicle she was riding in. He blamed her death on Baitullah Mehsud, a top Pakistani leader with ties to al Qaeda, and presented an intercepted telephone conversation between Mehsud and a Maulvi Sahib, in which Mehsud was heard congratulating Maulvi on a job well done. Mehsud was killed last year in a suspected U.S. drone strike.

The Pakistan Peoples Party, led by Bhutto before her death, said Saturday it accepted the report, and blamed Musharraf for failing to prevent Bhutto's death.

Bhutto had returned from a self-imposed eight-year exile to run in the country's general elections two months before her assassination and already had escaped one attempt on her life.

She was killed in December 2007 by a 15-year-old suicide bomber while campaigning in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, the seat of the country's military.

"No one believes that this boy acted alone," the U.N. report states. "A range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms. Bhutto, and second to investigate with vigor all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack, but also in its conception, planning and financing."

The report stops short of identifying a particular culprit.

No arrests have been made as of Sunday as a result of the U.N. report, Kaira said. But he pledged the government will go after those named in the report for their complicity in Bhutto's assassination.

A spokesman for Musharraf said Friday that the government offered adequate protection for Bhutto.

"I believe the government at the time did whatever they thought was reasonable," said Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesman and adviser to the former president.

"It was repeatedly stressed [to Bhutto] that she should be careful because of numerous credible threats against her," the spokesman said. "Unfortunately, she did not heed these requests and she went ahead and took part in the procession. The government did take whatever reasonable measures to protect her.

"There's no prescribed standard for maximum or minimum security. The very fact that she deemed it necessary go to a public meeting shows that she herself was satisfied with the level of security the government provided."

The U.N. commission's chairman, Chilean U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz, said the panel's role was "fact-finding" and not prosecutorial. Asked whether the failure to protect Bhutto was deliberate, he said, "It is not up to us to make inferences." But he added, "It is clear that warnings were passed on, on various occasions, and Ms. Bhutto received also information in this regard from outside Pakistan.

"Nevertheless, what we have found is that the passing of information was not accompanied by commensurate measures to protect her, particularly given the fact that an assassination attempt had been made against her the very day she returned to Karachi, [Pakistan]," he said.

Nationwide polls conducted shortly after Bhutto's death found that a majority of Pakistanis believed Musharraf's government was complicit in the assassination. Bhutto's supporters took to the streets after her killing. The ensuing riots left 58 dead and more than $200 million in property damage.

The Pakistan Peoples Party went on to win the most number of seats in elections held in 2008, and Musharraf resigned. Bhutto's widower, current President Asif Ali Zardari, asked the United Nations to look into his wife's death after taking office, and he was one of the more than 250 people interviewed by the commission.

- Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this report for CNN.

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Filed under: Pakistan • World
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. charles webster baer

    she was killed because when the bomb went off , her head was through the sun roof so people could see her , and the driver hit the gas , creating whip lash and her head hit the roof of the car .

    April 18, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Asim Kaleem

    This is just the initial reaction by this government which will all be faded with the passing time & finally the culprits shall remain at large as the history suggests. My suggestions is the Pakistani government should really improve security situation in the country where at present no body is safe from these unknown attacks targeting innocent civilians

    April 18, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jenn

    she was a great lady and a huge loss for the pakistani people. the people behind this must be brought to justice.

    April 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Prof R Manghirmlani-Geneve

    Great News for Democratic elected Government and People of Pakistan, Army was getting sick and I hope there will be no role for Army to play.Pakistani officials said they were searching for four military personnel who had disappeared just before the suicide attack on Bhutto during an election rally in Rawalpindi in December 2007

    April 18, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jen

    "The very fact that she deemed it necessary go to a public meeting shows that she herself was satisfied with the level of security the government provided."
    – This is not an "if this, then that" situation. A woman of the people will be with the people, even if security is not up to standards. Many leaders have done this in the past. Threats should not keep leaders of the people in hiding.
    I find her to be one of the most prominent figured in the past decade, even before her assassination. I would expect nothing less than her to go out amidst the people.

    April 19, 2010 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |