Who murdered former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated six years ago this Dec. 27? In 2009, Heraldo Muñoz, a Chilean diplomat, was asked to head a U.N. commission to investigate Bhutto’s 2007 assassination — a commission requested by the Pakistani government. Now, in his recently published book, Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan, Muñoz gives us a behind-the-scenes look into his fair and impartial investigation.
Muñoz’s investigation involved multiple dangerous trips to Pakistan, 250 interviews, meetings with numerous Pakistani officials, and examination of hundreds of documents, videos, and photos. As a result, the book forms a definitive, authoritative, and thorough compilation of virtually every single thing that went wrong with the handling of Bhutto’s October 2007 return to Pakistan, the security on the day of her assassination at Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh park, and the Pakistani authorities’ laughably horrible “investigation” of her murder. You’ll be stunned by Pakistani officials’ outrageous coverups, incompetence, and corruption. Sometimes you won’t know whether to laugh or cry.
For example, within a mere one hour and 40 minutes after a teenager detonated his suicide vest outside Bhutto’s Toyota Land Cruiser on the day of her death, Rawalpindi’s deputy police chief ordered fire and rescue workers to hose down the entire crime scene! As a result, police recovered only 23 pieces of evidence; normally you would expect thousands of pieces of evidence from such a crime, Muñoz writes. Perhaps the lost evidence would have helped us determine whether Bhutto died from the bullets fired by the bomber right before he blew himself up, or whether she died from hitting her head on the edge or lever of the Land Cruiser’s rooftop escape hatch — something we’ll probably never know, especially given that no autopsy was ever performed and that people were seen cleaning the vehicle while the Pakistanis’ investigations were still ongoing (two other issues that were horribly mishandled).
The deputy police chief’s reason for hosing down the crime scene so promptly? Doing so was needed as a “crowd control measure.” Yaaaa, right. (In fact, Muñoz’s investigation discovered that other police officials dispute whether there was a crowd control problem and say that even if there had been one, it wouldn’t have justified hosing down the crime scene.)
But this case goes beyond the mere police level. Muñoz’s team discovered an Interior Ministry letter that ordered all provincial governments to provide ultra-high-level security to former prime ministers Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain — but the letter makes no mention of Bhutto, another former (two-time) prime minister. The date of the letter? Oct. 22, 2007 — just four days after Bhutto returned to Pakistan and survived an assassination attempt mere hours after her homecoming. Muñoz writes, “Our Commission of Inquiry found it discriminatory and inexcusable that the October 22 directive for ex-prime ministers Aziz and Hussain did not include a similar clear instruction for the protection of Benazir Bhutto, particularly considering that she had been attacked in Karachi just four days prior to the issuance of the letter in question.”
Muñoz also directs culpability toward then-President Pervez Musharraf, writing, “Musharraf certainly bears political and moral responsibility in the assassination, as he did not provide the security that Benazir so urgently requested and was entitled to receive as a former prime minister.”
Then there’s the ISI — Pakistan’s infamous Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Muñoz thoroughly details how the ISI interferes in diverse sectors of Pakistani society, how it has had extensive connections with Islamist extremist groups that had wanted Bhutto dead, and how it has worked to influence election outcomes. This leads him to conclude: “These considerations have lent support to the suspicion in Pakistani society, and in the international community, that the ISI, in some shape or form, could have been involved in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.”
So who killed the woman whom many believe offered secular, democratic hope in a country known for its military dictatorships? Muñoz makes a comparison to the 17th-century Spanish play Fuente Ovejuna, in which the despised ruler of the village of Fuente Ovejuna is killed. When asked by the investigator who the perpetrator is, each villager responds that Fuente Ovejuna (the village itself) did it. Similarly, Muñoz’s best explanation of culpability in Bhutto’s assassination is that the entire “village” killed Bhutto: “Al-Qaida gave the order; the Pakistani Taliban executed the attack, possibly backed or at least encouraged by elements of the Establishment; the Musharraf government facilitated the crime by not providing her with adequate security; local senior policemen attempted a cover-up; Benazir’s lead security team failed to properly safeguard her.”
If that’s not enough of a downer, Muñoz also weaves in the history of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship — the context needed to truly comprehend Bhutto’s story. He states that Bhutto’s assassination is the “entry point” for a far larger story of Pakistan that includes the influence of the United States. He lays out in devastating clarity the double-dealing, hypocrisy, and dysfunction that characterize the U.S.-Pakistan relationship: how U.S. aid functions as political bribery, how billions of U.S. dollars were channeled through the ISI to train Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviets during the Cold War, how the United States somehow expects Pakistan’s so-called Establishment to cooperate with it in taking down terrorists, while many parts of that Establishment actually have connections with the terrorists. (As Muñoz puts it: “Pakistanis know well that the Americans embraced jihadists, like Osama bin Laden, when Washington’s priority was to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Likewise, the Pakistanis have fashioned their own relationship with the jihadists.”)
After reading the head-spinning saga of U.S. interference in Pakistan, any sane reader is left to conclude two things: The United States meddles far too much in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government often seems more responsive to Washington than to its own people.
Overall, when you finish reading this book, you just feel bad for the average Pakistani, who has to put up with all this — plus cope with chronic power outages, widespread unemployment, high inflation, weak school enrollment rates, high child mortality, malnutrition, falling agricultural production, and massive tax avoidance by the country’s wealthiest slice, among other numerous affronts. What a shame that 185 million Pakistanis can’t reach their true potential. We’ll never know whether Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and possible third time as prime minister would have improved things even a wee bit. The Pakistani “village” never gave us a chance to find out.
Preeti Aroon, a writer based in Washington, D.C., is copy chief at Foreign Policy magazine and tweets at @pjaroonFP.