Review: “Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan” – Heraldo Munoz

Heraldo Munoz is a Chilean politician who was appointed to head a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. This book is kind of like an unofficial memoir of his experience investigating Bhutto’s assassination. It is a unique blend of a historical and political analysis of Pakistan in the style of Ahmed Rashid and a Whodunit murder investigation.

In my youthful years I was a huge admirer of Benazir Bhutto. The first woman to lead a Muslim-majority state?! What’s more awesome and bold than that?! Of course my understanding of Bhutto and her politics naturally has changed considerably since then. Despite her high-sounding, progressive phraseology and rhetoric, Bhutto was an aristocratic Sindhi, a feudal princess whose multiple governments did nothing for the people of Pakistan and who was essentially a Pakistani Margaret Thatcher. Yuck.

Nonetheless there’s no question that Bhutto was a force to be reckoned with in Pakistan and that she was a serious threat to the military regime of Pervez Musharraf. Although Munoz never outright says it in the book, through numerous subtle hints and clues one is inevitably left with the impression that Munoz believes Musharraf was behind Bhutto’s assassination. According to Munoz, Musharraf “was furious when Bhutto made her announcement” to return to Pakistan before the 2008 elections (p. 27). Musharraf did not want Bhutto in Pakistan campaigning for the elections; he wanted the elections conducted in Pakistan without Bhutto’s active participation. That was the beginning of numerous questionable actions or inactions by the Musharraf regime. Even before Bhutto returned to Pakistan, Musharraf reportedly told Bhutto during a phone call with Bhutto while she was in Washington, D.C. that “You should understanding something. Your security is based on the state of our relationship” (p. 184).

Before her assassination the Musharraf regime refused to allow Bhutto’s security team to use cellphone jamming devices when she arrived in Karachi. Nor were bulletproof vehicles available for her forcing Bhutto’s security team to construct a makeshift vehicle for her. As her motorcade proceeded from the airport the street lights dimmed over her motorcade. Then a bomb detonated, killing 149 people. Afterwards Musharraf refused to allow the FBI or Scotland Yard to investigate the attack on Bhutto in Karachi.

On the day of Bhutto’s assassination no Pakistani Elite Force protection was provided in violation of prior security agreement(s). The Pakistani police failed to provide a defensive box formation around Bhutto when she arrived at the campaign rally, again in violation of prior security agreement(s). Bhutto’s back-up escape vehicle, a black Mercedes, Munoz notes, was strangely the first vehicle to leave the rally, and headed back to Bhutto’s house. The Mercedes back-up vehicle “traveled all the way to the Zardari house, a drive of twenty to thirty minutes, before the occupants of the vehicle became aware that Bhutto had been injured in the blast. They didn’t even stop at a safe distance following the explosion to check on her condition, the condition of her vehicle, and whether the backup vehicle was needed” (p. 139). Pakistani police failed to adhere to the route planned by the PPP, blocking of the exit Bhutto’s motorcade was supposed to take (p. 140). “Consequently, in an emergency it would have been impossible to for Bhutto’s convoy to use the escape route, unless those police vehicles had been quickly moved” (p. 140).

After the assassination, doctors at the Rawalpindi Hospital were refused permission by the police chief to conduct a postmortem autopsy on Bhutto, in violation of Pakistani law. “Pakistani law dictates that in the case of an unnatural death, the police must have a postmortem examination report as part of their investigation…Only a district magistrate may waive the need for a postmortem examination” (p. 147). Bhutto’s body was subsequently transferred to a military base and placed in a “regular room,” not a medical room, to await her husband’s arrival from Dubai. Bhutto’s body was thus under military control for several hours after she was declared dead at the hospital. Furthermore Pakistani police failed to secure the crime scene and Bhutto’s Land Cruiser. The latter was taken to the police station and cleaned of any hair, blood, or other matter, and within one hour and forty minutes, the police were instructed to hose down the crime scene with fire hoses. “It is my belief,” Munoz writes, that the police deliberately botched the investigation into Bhutto’s assassination” (p. 161).

Munoz contrasts the investigation into Bhutto’s assassination with an assassination attempt on Musharraf. After one such assassination attempt, “the investigators sealed off the area of the attack, and immediately ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], MI [Military Intelligence], and police personnel were on the scene collecting forensic evidence. They discovered the blown-off face of an individual, a half-burned ID card, and the remains of a cell phone on the roof of a nearby building. According to Musharraf, ‘a meticulous search of the area helped find the SIM card. Surprisingly it was intact.’ These clues and further investigation led to the arrest of the attackers. These thorough investigations stood in stark contrast with what happened after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination” (p. 112).

I enjoyed reading this book. Although the book is mainly about Munoz’s experience leading the UN Commission into Bhutto’s assassination, the book provides a surprisingly good and matter-of-fact history of Pakistan, without the ‘patriotic’ nonsense of American writers. Munoz, after all, is not only an armchair intellectual and diplomat but also lived and fought under a fascist military dictatorship sponsored by the U.S. (Pinochet in Chile). Perhaps it is this combination of experience that enables him to write about Pakistan without the militaristic “hurrah!” of American writers.

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