Islamabad: Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had expressed doubts about a claim by the regime of his former boss Pervez Musharraf that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban, a UN investigator has said.
Kayani indicated he had wondered whether slain Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud had organised the assassination, as was claimed by an Interior Ministry spokesman at a news conference a day after Bhutto`s death on December 27, 2007.
Former President Musharraf`s government based its claim on an intercept of a conversation between Mehsud and another man that was provided by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Kayani said the Musharraf government`s press conference had been premature. He said, "It should not have been done."
One cannot conclude culpability solely on a phone intercept, Kayani has been quoted as saying by Chilean diplomat Heraldo Munoz, who headed a UN panel that investigated Bhutto`s assassination.
Kayani also considered the performance of the Rawalpindi police after the assassination to have been "amateur", the diplomat writes in his new book "Getting Away With Murder", excerpts from which were released yesterday.
The Army chief was referring to the hosing down of the crime scene within hours of Bhutto being killed by a suicide bomber.
"If in 24 hours you don`t completely secure the scene, then you lose the threads to solve a case," Kayani told Munoz during a meeting in Rawalpindi on February 25, 2010.
Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack shortly after addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi. Several aspects of the assassination, including the exact cause of her death, remain shrouded in mystery.
Five men, including Taliban cadres, were arrested in connection with the assassination. Tehrik-e-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was blamed for the attack but said he was not involved. He was killed in a US drone strike in 2009.
Kayani, who served as ISI chief during 2004-2007, played a key role in secret negotiations between Musharraf and Bhutto before her return to Pakistan from self-exile in October 2007.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon asked the commission to probe the assassination at the request of Bhutto`s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari. The panel submitted its report in 2010.
Munoz`s interview with Kayani got off to a "bad start" when he asked about discussions preceding Bhutto`s return from exile. "Why are you asking me this?" Kayani said.
The diplomat writes that he became annoyed and said he had asked simply because Kayani had been present at the conversations.
Kayani responded that Bhutto was supposed to return to Pakistan by the end of 2007, rather than in autumn as she did, according to her agreement with Musharraf.
The Army chief assured Munoz there was "a deal" that involved Bhutto becoming Prime Minister, with Musharraf remaining as President, and all judicial charges against her being dropped.
Before Munoz left, Kayani spoke fondly of Bhutto. "She had grown as a politician. She had matured politically," he said, referring to the time he had served in Bhutto`s government to when he met her again in Dubai, while she was in self-exile.
When the UN commission initially requested to interview the then ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Kayani, it was given a "resounding no", Munoz writes.
Though the request was made confidentially, then Interior Minister Rehman Malik responded publicly that the UN investigators would "not be allowed access to the military officials or (intelligence) agency".
Acting on advice from a Pakistani official, Munoz wrote directly to Kayani. "After a number of informal conversations in which I conveyed the warning that the commissioners would not return to Pakistan if we were not given access to the ISI director general and the army chief, we were granted the interviews we requested," he wrote.
The UN panel met Pasha on February 24, 2010 and the ISI chief told them the spy agency was "better than any rival" but it was "not an investigating agency". In the case of Bhutto?s assassination, Pasha admitted the ISI provided information to the Joint Investigation Team.
Pasha said the ISI had passed information regarding threats directly to Bhutto and the Interior Ministry.
However, Munoz wrote that a former intelligence official told him the ISI "had done more than pass a few bits of information along".
The official said the ISI had conducted its own investigation of a previous attack on Bhutto in Karachi in October 2007 and detained four men who had provided logistical support. None of the police or civilian officials interviewed by the UN panel reported any knowledge of such detentions.
Members of the Joint Investigation Team admitted that virtually all of their most important information, including that which led to the identification and arrest of those suspects now in prison, came from intelligence agencies, Munoz wrote.