, ISLAMABAD, Jul 1 – A UN commission appointed to investigate the assassination of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto began work Wednesday, despite scepticism that the probe will lead to convictions.
The panel has a six-month mandate and is led by the Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, Heraldo Munoz. It includes an Indonesian ex-attorney general and an Irish former police official.
Bhutto, the first woman to become prime minister of a Muslim country, was killed on December 27, 2007 in a gun and suicide attack after addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital Islamabad.
"The six-month mandate of the Benazir Bhutto commission of inquiry has begun today. The commission is expected to visit Pakistan but the dates are not determined yet," Hiro Ueki, a UN spokesman in Pakistan, told AFP.
The United Nations says the panel will inquire into the facts and circumstances of the assassination, but makes clear it will be up to Pakistan to determine "the criminal responsibility of the perpetrators."
Pakistan called for a UN inquiry after Bhutto’s party won a general election two months after her death, with Bhutto supporters angered by conflicting accounts of how she died and who was responsible.
They cast doubt on a Pakistani probe into her death, criticised authorities for hosing down the scene of the attack within minutes — allegedly destroying evidence — and questioning whether she was killed by a gunshot or the blast.
Then President Pervez Musharraf and the US Central Intelligence Agency blamed Baitullah Mehsud, an Al-Qaeda-linked warlord based in Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan, for masterminding the killing.
Bhutto, a two-time prime minister, said in her autobiography she had been warned that four suicide squads — one sent by Mehsud and another by a son of Osama bin Laden — were after her.
She also repeatedly accused a cabal of senior intelligence and government officials of plotting to kill her, notably in an attack that killed 139 people in Karachi on October 18, 2007 when she returned from exile.
British detectives said Bhutto was killed by the force of a suicide bomb and not gunfire, backing the Pakistani government’s controversial account.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP the UN investigators were expected to arrive in the third week of July and that the government would provide all the records related to the incident.
Another UN spokeswoman in Islamabad, Ishrat Rizvi, said the commission was expected to visit some time this month.
The panel will submit a report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will then share it with Islamabad and the Security Council.
But the probe comes at a difficult time for Pakistan, which is fighting Islamist militants, straining under two million people displaced since April and preparing for an assault against Mehsud in the tribal belt.
Local political commentators were sceptical that the commission would lead to a conviction and said the request for the probe exposed weaknesses.
"I don’t expect the commission to provide evidence to convict anybody, because they cannot go and investigate. They can simply put together the evidence provided by the Pakistan government," analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.
"This shows they (the Pakistan government) don’t trust their institutions or they are afraid of those involved," he added.
Munoz, the head of the UN commission, is joined on the panel by Indonesian former attorney general Marzuki Darusman and Peter Fitzgerald, the Irish former police official.