Other than the bulletproof armoured car in a VIP convoy, the security configuration requires a back-up bulletproof armoured car as well as an ambulance with a doctor. These are cocooned by a well-armed mobile escort team, including a point vehicle. VVIP convoys also have separate mobile communication vehicles. Because the prime target of any assassin/s will be the lead vehicle carrying the VVIP/VIP, the back-up vehicle is a must. The logic is that if the lead vehicle is immobilized for any reason then the back-up vehicle is the only chance for the VIP to get away safely from the scene of ambush, a secure means for transportation to a secure location. This is nothing out of the ordinary; it is Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).
The driver of the back-up vehicle ensures that at all times he keeps “hugging” the lead vehicle, he must ensure that no other vehicle comes in between. The back-up vehicle cannot be separated from the lead vehicle, the two have to stay together as if they were Siamese twins. The back-up vehicle is not meant as a passenger vehicle, but usually there are guards in the vehicle. These guards will disembark during an emergency and shift the VIP from the lead vehicle. The VIP can then be expeditiously spirited away from the ambush site. Under no circumstances can the back-up vehicle have any persons other than guards as occupants. That would be a serious breach of security.
In Ms Bhutto’s convoy at Liaquat Bagh, the back-up vehicle had unauthorized occupants; it was being misused by the man in charge of Ms Benazir security from the PPP side, Rahman Malik. Dr Babar Awan along with Farhatullah Babar and Lt Gen (R) Tauqir Zia climbed in with him as passengers. As per the findings of the UN Report, the back-up vehicle left the ambush site, abandoning the VIP vehicle and did not stop till they reached Zardari House in Islamabad. The PPP’s leader was thus left stranded grievously injured in a vehicle that was badly damaged and was running on rims. One can just imagine the horrendous situation inside the car. Ms Benazir lying critically injured, the blood seeping out of her head and the occupants of the car, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Senator Safdar Abbasi, Nahid Khan and the driver in a state of shock, their leader literally dying before their eyes.
The trauma of those inside the vehicle can only be described as palpable, the driver deserves a medal for keeping the badly damaged Land Cruiser going. How he even got near the hospital with the vehicle in that damaged state is nothing short of a miracle. And where was the back-up vehicle meant to rescue her from just such a fate? To quote the exact words of the UN Report’s findings, “Ms Bhutto was left vulnerable in a severely damaged vehicle that was unable to transport her to hospital by the irresponsible and hasty departure of the bullet-proof Mercedes Benz, which as the back-up vehicle, was essential part of her convoy”, unquote. To her credit Sherry Rahman, following behind Ms Benazir’s vehicle did not abandon her leader. It was her car that transported the grievously injured leader the remaining distance to the hospital. That the back-up vehicle left the scene of the horrible crime makes those who took the vehicle away guilty by association for Ms Benazir’s murder. Given that the PPP leader’s Advisor on Security, Rahman Malik, made off with the vehicle along with another senior PPP leader, Dr Babar Awan, makes them both culpable, and in that order. The other two were simply passengers; the driver must have been briefed about his task to stick like glue to the lead vehicle. Why did the driver speed away? It is believed he was abused and threatened by Malik and Awan.
If he was security trained he would have followed standing instructions to follow the lead car no matter what. He must be taken to task. And if he was not security trained, who in the PPP was responsible for this other than the man in charge of Ms Benazir’s security, Rahman Malik?
The real question that investigators do not seem to focus on, why did the back-up vehicle leave the area ahead of Ms Benazir’s instead of following the lead vehicle? Did someone know that the bomb attack on Ms Benazir was about to take place and did not want to be caught up in the attack? This by itself makes the speeding away of the back-up vehicle (and not stopping) very suspicious! The false statements Malik and Awan said in TV appearances soon after the incident are a matter of record they kept claiming repeatedly, that they were close by and following the lead vehicle to the hospital! Any statement in such an investigation is considered to be under oath, their making of a blatantly false statement is perjury. There is also the moral issue here, two senior PPP leaders abandoned their badly wounded leader and without caring for her fate they sped away to safety. And did not stop till they reached Zardari House! How could they have abandoned their mentor in her hour of dire need?
It now begins to make sense why the govt asked for a delay in publishing the UN Report. The contents must have been shared with the Pakistan Govt before its public announcement. The delay was only a ploy to mask the culpability of Malik and Awan. The president’s speech to Joint Session of Parliament was due, he gave glowing mention to these two, almost out of context. This does raise awkward questions about why Zardari is so keen to absolve these two characters when they are guilty of abandoning his critically injured wife when even a few critical minutes would have made the difference between life and death? How can the Zardari one knows continue to be associated with those who left Benazir virtually dying on the road while they ran for their own lives? For the PPP it is a shame to have such people in their Party who abandoned their leader when she needed them most. One will watch with interest how the PPP “Jiyalas” react to these two.
Will the Chief Executive of the country have the courage, not only to dispense with the services of these men who abandoned their (and his) leader when she was dying, but also make them accountable for Benazir’s death? Now that he has the powers, Yousuf Raza Gilani cannot put off decision-making by taking advantage of the ambiguity between the Head of State and Head of the Govt. That will be the first acid test of the 18th Amendment! Ms Benazir paid for the disloyalty and cowardice of Malik and Awan with her life, what price will this country pay if such people continue to serve in critical govt positions?
By: Ikram Sehgal