United Nations supremo Ban Ki-moon said today he would set up an independent commission to identify Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassins “with a view to bring them to justice”.
The agreement was confirmed by UN secretary general Mr Ban’s office moments after it was announced by Pakistan’s top diplomat. The two had met briefly in private beforehand.
“The objectives are for the commission to identify the culprits, perpetrators, organisers and financiers of the assassination,” Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said.
Determining who was behind Ms Bhutto’s killing could bring clarity and determination to Pakistan’s fragile coalition government, which sought the inquiry.
It also could help stabilise a nation that is a key US ally in its fight against terrorism, but is seen as increasingly in disarray with an influx of insurgents joining with al-Qaida and other militant groups in Pakistan’s remote tribal and mountainous areas.
Pakistan is now run by Ms Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of her Pakistan People’s Party, who has also been consumed by efforts to remove President Pervez Musharraf.
But the military is the main force propping up the nation. Half the ministers left the Cabinet in May, bickering over the fate of judges dismissed by Mr Musharaff last year.
Suspicions about Ms Bhutto’s death have been cast far and wide, a further reason for the government’s pressing to clear up the matter. Mr Qureshi said Mr Ban would appoint “well-respected, eminent people” to the independent commission.
Mr Ban’s office also said in a statement that “broad understanding had been reached” on the nature of the commission, including how to pay for it, who its members should be, how to protect its independence and impartiality and that its members should have unfettered access to the information it needed.
But Mr Ban said he would have to talk further to Pakistan and other UN officials to hammer out all the details.
Mr Qureshi said he believed Mr Ban had authority without the UN Security Council’s approval to set up a commission to try to identify the culprits in Ms Bhutto’s assassination as quickly as possible. But he also said some council members he spoke to were supportive of establishing a commission.
“The broad understanding is going to be that it should be done in the shortest possible time, so that we do not want it sort of a lingering thing, going on for years,” Mr Qureshi said.
Ms Bhutto died in a gun and suicide bomb attack on December 27 as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi.
Her death shocked the world and Pakistan, fanning revulsion at rising militant violence and theories that Pakistan’s powerful spy agencies were involved.
It also helped propel her party to victory in February elections, and since then the fledgling coalition government has made a UN probe into who was behind the killing a top priority.
The previous government and the CIA quickly accused Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant commander often blamed for suicide attacks, of orchestrating the killing.
Pakistan’s interior ministry released a wiretap in which Mehsud associates purportedly congratulated each other for her death. Ms Bhutto had called for Pakistan to redouble its efforts against Islamic extremism.