PPP apologists have justified the establishment of the proposed commission on the ground that the result of the UN conducted exercise will be accepted by the nation, which may not be the case if the government itself undertakes the investigation
Following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December the PPP demanded an investigation into the matter by the UN. The Musharraf government, however, refused to oblige and instead decided to get it done by a national agency. It associated the Scotland Yard with the exercise in order to meet the concerns of the PPP and the international community about the impartiality of the probe.
This, however, did not satisfy the PPP, which persisted with the demand. Subsequently, it asked the caretaker PM to approach the UN for the purpose but he turned a deaf ear to it. Now that the PPP is in power, it has decided to ask the UN to set up an international commission to investigate the assassination. Though the government’s decision apparently enjoys the unanimous backing of the national and provincial assemblies, many analysts are highly critical of it.
Is the government’s decision justified?
We begin by examining the objection according to which the proposed commission has no place in the UN’s worldview. The Charter in its Article 33(1) looks upon inquiry as one of the methods to resolve disputes that could endanger international peace and security. In other words, it conceives inquiry as a means of dispute settlement between two or more states and certainly not as an instrument to take care of a domestic issues.
The jurisprudence of the last hundred years or so ever since this method was formally adopted at the Hague Peace Conference in 1899 also testifies to this as inquiry commissions that were established during this period were always used for conflict resolution between states and never to sort out a domestic controversy. Consequently, the proposed commission is conceptually at odds with the UN Charter.
The second objection relates to the threat that the proposed commission poses to the sovereignty of Pakistan. It is axiomatic that states are always very protective of their sovereignty, to the extent that they regard it as one of the fundamental principles of international law. No wonder that Article 2, paragraph 7 of the Charter unequivocally forbids “the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.”
In this backdrop it is indeed odd on the part of the Pakistani government to invite the UN to interfere in its internal affairs. As a student of international organisations, I think that this decision must be perhaps the only example of its kind in the annals of the League of Nations and the UN.
Third, there is a fear that the proposed commission could put the PPP on a collision course with the establishment. Every nation has secrets that it jealously guards and does not like to share even with its best friends; Pakistan may be more so because evidence relating to Bhutto’s murder may also relate to its unsavoury manipulation of jihadi elements.
Indifferent towards this aspect, the proposed commission could, however, probe areas and individuals that the establishment may feel uncomfortable with. The parallel drawn by PPP apologists between Scotland Yard, which performed its duties unhindered, and the proposed commission is flawed. They forget that whereas the Pakistani government fixed the former’s terms of reference and exercised control over its movement and accessibility to persons, this may not be the case with the latter. Here it will fix the terms of reference but questions of its movement and accessibility to persons will be the exclusive prerogative of the UN. Hence the fear of collision between the government and the establishment is well founded.
Additionally, there is a danger that some of the members of the proposed commission, acting on their own agenda, could also be interested to know more than what is necessary from the viewpoint of investigation. To remove this danger the establishment may not be as cooperative with the proposed commission as the latter may like it to be. This could lead the PPP to blame the establishment for covering the truth and the latter could accuse the former of playing with national security.
Similarly, on Bhutto’s autopsy, which has to be the starting point of any genuine investigation, there is a danger of clash between the two. Asif Ali Zardari is not likely to allow it because of its obvious political fallout. If things go wrong, the establishment may use this fact against Zardari for insincerity in investigation. This blame game could be very damaging for the PPP which has, for the first time in its history, been accepted by the establishment.
The fourth objection relates to the financial cost of the proposed commission. The Hariri Commission that the UN Security Council established had an agenda that mostly benefited the US and Israel. Most of the expenses were borne by the world body. However, part of the expenses were borne by Lebanon. Since the proposed commission in the present situation is to be established at the request of the Pakistani government, it is but natural that it will have to bear all expenses. Given the fact that the expenses will be prohibitive and the outcome of the inquiry problematic, it is fair to ask whether the decision to seek the UN’s help is worth it.
PPP apologists have justified the establishment of the proposed commission on the ground that the result of the UN conducted exercise will be accepted by the nation, which may not be the case if the government itself undertakes the investigation. There may be substance in the argument but it is highly dangerous to say the least. This is so because if we accept it, it would signify that each time there is a controversial domestic issue the government should run to the UN to get it sorted out.
It however does point to a crisis of confidence in the country which is manifested by sharp disagreements on many issues of national importance such as the construction of Kalabagh Dam or the apportionment of water between provinces. The message here is that we learn to resolve our differences ourselves without involving outsiders failing which our future as a nation looks bleak.
While announcing the decision to seek the UN’s help, the law minister furnished the justification that it was meant to uncover a foreign hand. Honestly speaking, this justification is an afterthought because at the time of Bhutto’s assassination, the PPP never raised the issue nor did it do so subsequently. In fact at the time of Bhutto’s assassination it insinuated the involvement of the establishment or at least of some rogue elements within it, while some of its stalwarts saw Musharraf’s involvement.
The PPP has now advanced the argument of a possible foreign hand because it finds it hard to justify the UN’s involvement. That also explains why it constantly assimilates the proposed commission with the Hariri Commission that too was justified on the basis of possible involvement of a foreign country.
Honestly speaking, the PPP is utterly wrong in involving the UN in Bhutto’s murder investigation. It is behaving as if it is in the opposition while the truth is that it is the government and as such it has certain responsibilities particularly with regard to Pakistan’s security. It is true that it is constrained by the emotional pledge to get Bhutto’s murder investigated by the UN if it came to power and now that it is in power it finds it hard to wriggle out of that commitment without losing face.
However, leadership consists in taking bold decisions and accepting mistakes for the good of the country. Zardari should have the guts to tell the people, particularly those in Sindh, that it cannot get the UN to investigate the matter for security reasons and that since it is in power it would get the investigation conducted by a government agency.
Will he do it? Given the fact that personal or party interest rather than national interest guides our leaders, it looks highly improbable that he will take a quantum jump in leadership.
The writer is a former dean of social sciences at the Quaid-i-Azam University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily times, 23/4/2008