Leading article: A test of the rule of law in Pakistan

Related Topics

The verdict of the United Nations committee called in to investigate the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 paints a damning picture of the deficiencies of the Pakistani state.

The committee concludes that the death of the leader of the Pakistan People's Party outside a rally in Rawalpindi could have been prevented if the government of the former president, Pervez Musharraf, had taken steps to provide sufficient security. It concludes, too, that the police and intelligence agencies grossly mishandled the investigation into Ms Bhutto's assassination.

Yet the report also argues that these failures go "beyond mere incompetence". It cites the fact that the crime scene was hosed down by the Rawalpindi police immediately after the attack, which, it says, could not have happened without the knowledge of higher authorities. It also argues that "the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms Bhutto's assassination were, in most cases, deliberate" and that the police were motivated in part by "fear of the involvement of the intelligence agencies" in the attack. This has profound implications given that, before her death, Ms Bhutto had accused a group of senior politicians and intelligence officials of plotting to kill her.

Of course, a great deal has changed in Pakistan since Ms Bhutto's assasination. Pervez Musharraf has left office and gone into exile. The UN report itself was commissioned last July by the new government in Islamabad, which is led by Ms Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari. But it remains unclear how much has truly changed in Pakistan, not least over whether the country's intelligence services continue, in the words of the report, "to undermine democratic governance".

The links between the Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban (long seen as useful proxies by Islamabad in the struggle against India) certainly seem to have weakened. The Pakistan army's military operation against militants in its western provinces, which began last year, marked a clear turning point. The fact that public opinion in Pakistan shifted decisively against the Taliban after the militants invaded the Swat Valley and imposed brutal religious punishments on the population was an important factor. Pakistani troops have fought hard against their old allies in the Taliban – arguably too hard. As Patrick Cockburn reported from the region this week, the operation to pacify the border region has created 70,000 refugees and the civilian death toll continues to rise.

Yet the army is not going after those Pashtun militants which are using Pakistan as a base to mount attacks on Nato troops across the border in Afghanistan. And Islamabad has shown little appetite for a crackdown on jihadists in Kashmir, who are suspected of being responsible for the terror attack on Mumbai.

The UN report urges a credible probe into Ms Bhutto's death. And Mr Zardari's government has promised a "proper police investigation and possible penal proceedings". But any investigation would surely need to interrogate powerful members of the military and intelligence establishment. There is public scepticism in Pakistan about whether such a reckoning is likely. What happens next should give us an indication of whether Pakistan is any closer to becoming a state governed by the rule of law.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
...and after (EPA)  

Nepal earthquake: A shocking disaster in one of the most remarkable countries on earth

Anthony Costello
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions