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Following the UN report

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By: Zafar Hilaly

In the past, the army has been loath to have senior officers tried. Coups, wars, botched military operations, corruption on a gargantuan scale and the loss of half the country have produced no trials. Officers responsible for such acts have lived on to write their memoirs

Finally, the government seems to have worked up the courage to begin in earnest an investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto. It has been a disgracefully long time in coming. Clearly, the UN Commission of Inquiry Report has been instrumental; not only has it imparted the much-needed testosterone and told us where to look for the culprits, as if we did not know, but also framed a charge-sheet of sorts. It has, therefore, served a vital purpose, regardless of what the legion of its critics spout to the contrary.

Justice, which is to give everyone his due, is the one constant and perpetual wish of society. And a lot of people have borne the pain readily only in the hope that justice will be done. Now the government must ensure that some degree of justice must be seen to be done or else electorally it will perish. And Mr Zardari will never be able to wash off the stain.

Mr Zardari seems to appreciate this and is readying himself to do that. He has said that 90 percent of those involved have been apprehended. What he probably means is that the actual perpetrators, the young men, have been identified, some apprehended and some on the run. No doubt detailed confessions will soon see the light of day. The UN report also confidently identifies a teenager as the suicide bomber and, speaking in Peshawar recently, Mr Zardari also hinted that he might be an Afghan.

But what of those who conceived the crime? The chances are, nay the certainty is, that they have not been identified. And if the crime is to be pegged exclusively on the Taliban, on the supposition that as the perpetrators are the Taliban then so must be their minders and their leader, it would not wash with the public. Pakistanis tend to perceive the donkey standing behind bars as a zebra. And it is not their fault. In countries where the system of government can be described as absolutism moderated by murder, suspicion, and not the truth, reigns supreme.

However, so many are the theories in circulation and so far fetched are some that no justice system can address them all, and hence we may happen to settle for the most plausible answer as the true one. And while that sounds pretty boring, let us accept it for a moment and agree to lay the blame for her murder at the door of the Taliban, although few are willing to do so.

But struggling to find out who killed BB is only half, precisely half, the battle. Of no less importance is who left the door open so that the murderers could saunter in and plant their bombs in Karachi, and do what they did at Liaquat Bagh with such impunity. In a sense, they are the real culprits. And if Saud Aziz conveniently takes the rap for ordering the crime site to be hosed down, as he is most likely to, for reasons of ‘crowd control’, then the whole case will appear neatly resolved for some, but it will not suffice for the rest of the country. By next week, therefore, when the small investigation group set up to question him and the former MI chief end their time-bound investigation, we will know where this case is headed.

Of course, the cynics among us say that they know it already. Without proof of a conspiracy, which is something very difficult to prove in court, and impossible to do without all the culprits being in custody, the guilty will go scot-free. So Mr Zardari, if he is to do the job thoroughly, must ensure that all those suspected of being involved are made available to the investigators. And here, of course, he runs up against a big obstacle. Of those who stood to benefit by her removal are/were senior military officers, including the one who is abroad. Roping them in would require a fundamental shift in the way the Pakistani establishment works. But what may prove a greater hurdle is not the courts or foreign governments, but our sad history.

Accountability is a relatively novel concept in Pakistan. It is irksome, messy and disquieting, but necessary nonetheless. But who can say with certainty that the penny has dropped? In the past, the army has been loath to have senior officers tried. Coups, wars, botched military operations, corruption on a gargantuan scale and the loss of half the country have produced no trials. Officers responsible for such acts have lived on to write their memoirs. Some defeated and disgraced generals have even tried to form political parties. Why, then, should the latest crop of officers, who could face charges of conspiracy to murder or criminal negligence, not also go scot-free? Sadly, whereas even colonial rulers made their generals like Clive and Hastings answerable to parliament and the courts, ours have not, to date.

The question is, will this paradigm continue? And almost everyone says that it may, because Mr Zardari does not possess the guts and the gumption to attempt to change it; nor does he have the wherewithal in terms of political support. And, solid and honest as he is by repute, General Kayani may not feel that now is the moment to undertake a revolution in the army’s approach towards errant officers. By making the former DG Military Intelligence, a serving general, available to questioning by civilians is, they say, already a big step. Doing more may prove unsettling.

Of course, such a stance, if indeed it is an accurate depiction of the current thinking, cannot stand if the evidence unearthed suggests the culpability of others. The public will not tolerate it. Nor will parliament. And nor, my gut instinct tells me, will Kayani. And, at the risk of being shouted down, I may add, nor will Mr Zardari. When the time comes to stand and be counted, he will. She stood up, and so will he.

Mr Zardari must now constitute an enquiry panel headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the murder based on the 18 recommendations contained in the summary of the UN report. If he prevaricates, he will perish.

The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at charles123it@hotmail.com