Arab world frozen in time?

By Kai Bird
Arab modernity. Why is it that at the beginning of the 21st century the Arab world seems stuck in time? Why are most Arabs still ruled by kings or military dictatorships? And specifically, why has the most populous Arab nation, Egypt, been governed by one man for nearly three decades?

President Hosni Mubarak, a former general, came to power in the aftermath of Anwar Sadat's assassination in October 1981. He has ruled Egypt ever since under a state of emergency.

Last week, Mubarak's regime extended for another two years a Draconian emergency law that permits police to detain individuals indefinitely, prohibits unauthorized assembly and severely restricts freedom of speech.

We Americans should care about this state of affairs. Mubarak's regime exists in part because our tax dollars subsidize this dictatorship to the tune of several billion dollars a year. We also support the Saudi royalty. And although President Obama and previous presidents have often spoken eloquently about the need for democratization, Egypt's elections are anything but democratic. Why does nothing change?

I spent virtually my entire childhood in the Middle East, and though it is not my home, I worry about it as if it were my home. I mourn for it, I fear for it -- and I also greatly fear it. Modernity, if not ever completely defeated, seems to have been put on hold throughout much of the Arab world. A worn-out, 82-year-old pharaoh still reigns in Egypt. Royalty still rules in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Islamists still seem to be winning hearts and minds in a political vacuum.
The fact is that the Egypt of my adolescence in the 1960s was a more democratic and secular society than today. My father was an American Foreign Service officer stationed in Cairo from 1965-67. An army colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was Egypt's virtual dictator. But Nasser had at least been elected president in 1956. He was a wildly popular and populist politician throughout Egypt.

Sadat was never as popular as Nasser. He had catered to the Islamists in the aftermath of Nasser's death, thinking they were not dangerous, and ending up being killed by them. Neither he nor Mubarak could have survived a truly democratic election.

Nasser became an autocrat, but at least he offered the Arabs a secular vision. Even today, Nasser remains emblematic of a lost era when hope still existed among Arabs of all classes and tribes for a modern, secular and progressive Arab nation.

Suave and articulate, Nasser exuded a quiet intelligence. His colleagues knew him to be incorruptible. He had no personal peccadilloes, aside from smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. He loved American films. His good friend the newspaper editor Mohammed Heikel claimed that Nasser loved watching Frank Capra's syrupy Christmas tale, "It's a Wonderful Life." His favorite American writer was Mark Twain. He spent an hour or two each evening reading American, French and Arabic magazines.

His closest political enemies at home were the Muslim Brotherhood, political theocrats who then attracted an insignificant following. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood would undoubtedly win any democratic election in Egypt.

But back in the 1960s, most young Arab men aspired to a secular modernity. They wanted to be engineers or doctors or lawyers -- and they admired, like Nasser did, American culture.

I lived in Cairo's upscale suburban community of Maadi, about eight miles south of the city on the eastern bank of the Nile River. I am startled to realize now that another resident of Maadi was the young Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In 1965, the future doctor and No. 2 leader of al Qaeda was attending Maadi's state-run secondary school. He was exactly my age. And like me, al-Zawahiri used to watch Hollywood films on an outdoor screen at the Maadi Sports Club.

Al-Zawahiri once aspired to a career in public health. His ambitions were the same as most young Arab men in the Nasser era. Even then he was a practicing Muslim. And his religious sensibilities did not become politically radicalized until after Nasser ordered the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood's leader, Sayyid Qutb, in 1966. But I would argue that al-Zawahiri and other young men would never have taken the road to jihadist terror had it not been for the June 1967 war.

Sadik al-Azm, the Yale-educated, Syrian philosopher, described Nasser's defeat in the June war as a "lightning bolt" and a "shock" to the Arab ethos. Nasser's humiliation spelled the defeat of the idea of a secular path to Arab modernity. Nasser's once powerful notion that the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East could unite under the banner of a progressive Arab nationalist movement was now discredited.

Over time, political Islam moved into this political vacuum. Al-Zawahiri himself wrote in his 2001 memoir that the "Naksa" -- the June 1967 defeat -- "influenced the awakening of the jihadist movement."

Al-Zawahiri today is hiding in a cave in Afghanistan, or dodging drone missile attacks in Pakistan. Someday he will be a dead man, along with his pitiful co-conspirator Osama bin Laden. The jihadists don't have any thing real to offer the Arabs of the 21st century. They can't put bread on the table in this era of globalization.

Al-Azm believes the jihadists have already lost: "There may be intermittent battles in the decades to come, with many innocent victims. But the number of supporters of armed Islamism is unlikely to grow, its support throughout the Arab Muslim world will likely decline. ... September 11 signaled the last gasp of Islamism rather than the beginnings of its global challenge."

I hope so. But if Al-Azm is right, the new generation of young Arab men and women must find hope for their lives elsewhere. And so long as tired old kings and pharaohs smother their rights to democratic elections and free speech, the jihadists will still offer a desperate alternative.

Pakistan Military in Spotlight After Times Square Plot

"When in doubt, do nothing" could have served as the Pakistani military's unofficial motto until now on the tricky question of tackling militant strongholds in the tribal badlands of North Waziristan. But doing nothing may no longer be an option, now that the Obama Administration is blaming the failed Times Square bomb attack on the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Washington has long cajoled the Pakistani army to extend its campaign against militants on its own soil into North Waziristan, where the TTP leadership has set up shop amid a viper's nest of militant groups that include al-Qaeda, but the generals have until now demurred, claiming a lack of resources. Following reports that Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad was trained by TTP elements in North Waziristan, the pressure on Pakistan from Washington has sharply increased, leaving the Pakistani military leadership in an increasingly uncomfortable position.On Friday, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, met with Pakistan's Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, reportedly to coax Pakistan into moving into North Waziristan. And on Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sternly warned of "very severe consequences" for Pakistan if an attack similar to the one tried in Times Square were to prove successful.Pakistanis are already embarrassed at the fact that Shahzad was not only born in Pakistan and is alleged to have been trained there, but is also the son of a retired senior military officer. More alarming still is the apparent move by the TTP, until now a domestic insurgency directed at the Pakistani state, to target a U.S. city in retaliation for drone attacks in Pakistan. That leaves Pakistan's political and military leadership to find a response sensitive to both the needs of a key ally and the concerns of a skeptical public.Wary of U.S. motives at the best of times, Pakistani public opinion was rankled by Clinton's warning. Even liberal newspapers committed to fighting militancy warned of the statement's unintended effects. "Ms. Clinton's comments are unfortunate and will rekindle suspicions here that America is no real friend of Pakistan," said an editorial in Dawn, Pakistan's leading newspaper. The fear is that those who oppose the campaign against jihadist militancy will turn Pakistani ire at Clinton's perceived bullying to their advantage in the battle for Pakistani hearts and minds.But while an offensive launched under pressure from the U.S. could antagonize the Pakistani public, there could be an even greater backlash should the U.S. decide to take matters into its own hands. This year alone has seen at least 32 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, principally at targets in North Waziristan, and that program - which infuriates many Pakistanis - is set to continue. While the authorities may be able to absorb the political fallout from the increasingly accurate drone strikes, their real worry is that Washington might decide to send its own ground forces into North Waziristan. "[The presence of U.S. troops] would be truly disastrous," says Aftab Sherpao, who served as Interior Minister under former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. The mere presence of foreign soldiers, he believes, would inflame public opinion to dangerous proportions, weakening the hand of the civilian government and the army. In September 2008, the only known case of an American boots-on-the-ground operation triggered a chorus of outrage, led by General Kayani himself.Even if the U.S. refrained from expanding its own actions on Pakistani soil, the generals and politicians also fear that failure to act could jeopardize the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in civilian and military aid from Washington.Given the risks that follow from doing nothing, Pakistan will have to take action. "The army realizes that it must go into North Waziristan," says retired general and analyst Talat Masood. "They have been looking at this option for quite some time, but they have been hesitant as they are overstretched." Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops are already fanned out across the northwest and the tribal areas in an effort to consolidate gains made in recent offensives. "Washington should appreciate that we have covered a lot of area," insists Sherpao, the former Interior Minister. "There have been operations in Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand and South Waziristan. We cannot move troops from the eastern border because there's no comfort as far as India is concerned." As the military's decision to test-fire two ballistic missiles at the weekend demonstrates, India remains its principal focus.The Pakistani military has long drawn a distinction between the Taliban, and related insurgent groups, using its soil as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan and those waging war on the Pakistani state. The Afghanistan-oriented groups have been allowed to operate largely unmolested in keeping with Pakistan's desire to recover lost influence in Afghanistan, while the military has gone after the TTP. But as the army pushed into the TTP's strongholds in South Waziristan, the group moved north, into territory controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadur - a militant leader who enjoys a fragile nonaggression pact with the Pakistan army. "It's a very complex area," says Masood, "particularly because there are elements there that are not so hostile to the Pakistani military." By that he means the Haqqani network, an al-Qaeda linked Afghan Taliban group deemed one of the most dangerous confronting the U.S. in Afghanistan but viewed as a strategic asset by Pakistan's intelligence services. "The army will prefer to take a limited operation, one that is confined to the Mehsud areas," says Masood, referring to TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud.But North Waziristan is only one part of the jihadist infrastructure that enables terror attacks beyond Pakistan's borders. As Shahzad's alleged story - making contact with militant elements in Karachi before heading off to North Waziristan for training - demonstrates, there are jihadist groups seeded throughout the country, and they're strengthening their cooperative ties with one another.Dismantling that infrastructure will take years, say Pakistani analysts and politicians. "You can't start operations against all these groups simultaneously," says Sherpao. "You have to proceed step by step. You have to consolidate your gains first, then move on to the next target." But the Shahzad case, says Sherpao, should serve as a wake-up call. "The political and military leadership have to sit down now and devise a serious response," he says. "Otherwise, it will become very difficult."

Who murdered Benazir Bhutto?
Christina Lamb
Benazir Bhutto was brought back to Pakistan from exile as part of an international deal. Then she was killed — and all traces of evidence were immediately swept away. Our award-winning correspondent follows the clues to her killers in London, Karachi and Washington
Across fields of cotton and baked mud in the village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in southern Pakistan rises a white marble mausoleum with Mughal-style cones that shim-mer in the heat. Inside lie four bodies — a father and his three children — all murdered over a 30-year span. The father was hanged by a military dictator, one son poisoned and one son shot, both by unknown assailants. The daughter was still building the mausoleum when she, too, was assassinated. Her killing was captured on live TV, yet who did it remains a mystery, as well as how.

Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan’s most important political figure, the leading female politician in the Islamic world, an Oxford and Harvard graduate who was the West’s best hope of tackling terrorism. Yet 2½ years on, and despite a $5m United Nations commission of inquiry, her murder remains unresolved.

Almost every Pakistani has a theory about who did it; practically nobody expects to find out. Pakistan’s history is dotted with unexplained political assassinations, but this time there was an unexpected twist. Bhutto’s widowed husband ended up as president, with all the government apparatus at his disposal. One might think that for once there was a good chance of establishing a culprit. Instead he had called in the UN to investigate, claiming “This thing is bigger than us.”

I had my own reasons for wanting answers. I’d known Bibi, as friends called her, since 1987, when her kind wedding invitation to a 21-year-old led to me falling in love with her country and starting a life as a foreign correspondent, covering both her spells as prime minister. I was with her on the truck in Karachi the first time they tried to kill her: two bombs killed 150 people, but she survived.

Ten weeks later, just after 5pm on December 27, 2007, they succeeded. As Bhutto left an election rally in Liaquat Park, Rawalpindi, she stood up through the sunroof of her armoured car to wave. Moments later she was dead, blood gushing from a wound to her temple, as a suicide bomber exploded himself in the crowd.

Bhutto’s action had been foolhardy when she knew there were people out to kill her, and her death sadly unsurprising in a family that has sacrificed everything for politics. What was less explicable was what happened next.

“Everything was manipulated,” says Athar Minallah, a leading lawyer who sits on the board of the Rawalpindi hospital where Bhutto was taken. “The evidence was washed away and no autopsy or investigation allowed. As a lawyer I can’t come to any conclusion, but it’s all too sinister to believe there wasn’t mala fide in this.”

In the 20 years I knew Benazir I had been both captivated by her and infuriated by her, once even deported by her. But I had also personally witnessed the lengths gone to to stop her by what she called “the Establishment”, the old guard of Pakistan’s military and intelligence, which at the time of Bhutto’s death had ruled the country for 32 of its 60 years. Despite being warned off by friends in the Pakistani media, I travelled from London to Dubai, Karachi to Kabul, Waziristan to Washington, asking questions from those involved, many of whom had never spoken out before.

If ever there was a death foretold, this was it. Bhutto’s days were numbered from the time she decided to end eight years in exile in Dubai and return home, following a deal with President Pervez Musharraf backed by the US and Britain. Under the deal, corruption charges against her, her husband and senior members of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) would be dropped, enabling them to contest elections. In return they would allow Musharraf to remain president. But neither trusted the other, and the military ruler had sworn he would never allow her back in power.

“We might as well have painted a bull’s-eye target on her head,” admitted a British Foreign Office minister involved in the negotiations.

Her closest friends begged her not to go back. “I said, ‘You’ve been prime minister twice, why do this?’ ” said Peter Galbraith, a former UN envoy to Afghanistan, who had been a friend since 1969, when a primly dressed Bhutto arrived at Harvard aged16 and went to dinner at his parents’ house.

Mark Siegel, a Democrat strategist who co-wrote her last book, said goodbye to her in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Washington. As he turned back to wave, he recalled the scene in The Graduate of a rain-soaked Anne Bancroft standing bereft after realising that her lover, Dustin Hoffman, is in love with her daughter. “I had this terrible feeling,” he said.

In London before her return, Bhutto told me she knew the risk. “I know there are people who want to kill me and scuttle the restoration of democracy,” she said. “But with my faith in God and the people of Pakistan, I’m sure the party workers will protect me.”

She then flew to Dubai to say goodbye to her daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa. On October 16, the day before she was due to fly to Pakistan, she was warned by UAE and Saudi intelligence of a plot to kill her. She immediately wrote to Musharraf naming three suspects: Pervez Elahi, then chief minister of Punjab; General Hamid Gul, the retired head of Pakistan’s military intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI); and Brigadier Ejaz Shah, the former head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB). But there was no changing her mind. “The time of life is written and the time of death is written,” she insisted.

When the plane landed at Karachi and Bhutto came down the steps, she could not hold back the tears. Huge crowds had lined the streets. Waving from the top of a special bus, she was transformed, her face alive, so different to the Bhutto of the last few years in exile, gorging on ice cream and reading self-help books. I understood then why she had gone back.

But her security people were worried. The jammers promised by the Pakistan government to impede remote-control bombs were not working. Bhutto refused to go behind the special bulletproof screen in her bus that would separate her from her people. Eventually, she went to the armoured compartment on the lower deck to work on her speech. It was nearly midnight and we had been on the bus nine hours when the first blast came, throwing us to the ground. Moments later came a second, much larger, blast. There was silence, then screams, sirens and little pieces fluttering down like black snowflakes: bits of charred skin.

Bhutto had no doubt who was behind it. She emailed Mark Siegel on October 26: “Nothing will God-willing happen. Just wanted u to know if it does I will hold Musharraf responsible.”

She also called Musharraf. “He told her, ‘I warned you not to come back until after the elections,’ and threatened her, ‘I’ll only protect you if you’re nice to me,’ ” said Husain Haqqani, a former Bhutto aide who was living in the US and is now Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington.

Instead of stepping up her security, it was reduced. She was even told not to travel in vehicles with tinted windows, as this was against the law of the local government.

She appealed to the American and British officials who had helped negotiate her return. “I called everyone,” said Haqqani. “I even got the US ambassador in Pakistan, Anne Patterson, to visit her.” It did not go well. “Patterson wasn’t nice to her,” said Bhutto’s cousin and confidant, Tariq Islam. “She harped on, ‘You must not talk against Musharraf.’ The Americans never trusted her. It was a marriage of convenience.”

In November, Bhutto returned to Dubai for a few days. Her daughters believe she knew then she would not see them again. “She kept on telling us life is in God’s hands,” said her youngest, Asifa, interviewed for Bhutto, a film about her mother’s life that opens in June. “It was going to be my 18th birthday in January, and she said she wanted to wish me happy birthday in advance,” said her older daughter, Bakhtawar. “I said, ‘Don’t wish me in advance, wish me then.’ ”

The next morning, after her mother left, she found a be-ribboned box containing a silver jaguar head on a pendant. A note wished her “Happy birthday, all my love, Mummy”.

Back in Pakistan, on December 26, the day before the Rawalpindi rally, she addressed a public meeting in Peshawar and a suspected suicide bomber was caught trying to get in. That night her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, called her, begging her to let him campaign in her place. “I pleaded with her, ‘You stay home and I’ll go do the rallies. You’re the mother.’ But she said, ‘What can I do? I have to go and meet my people.’ ”

In the early hours of December 27, she was visited by General Nadeem Taj, the head of the ISI, the agency that in the past had done all it could to stop her becoming prime minister, from printing propaganda leaflets to creating a new political party. What he told her is unknown. Despite the late night, Bhutto was up early sending emails, including one to Peter Galbraith asking him to contact his friend, the Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, to send some of his jammers.

Back at her Islamabad home for a light lunch, she called her political secretary, Naheed Khan, to sit with her. Naheed had worked for her for 23 years and accompanied her through beatings, tear gas and arrests. Bhutto told her some American politicians would be coming that evening. Convinced that Musharraf was planning to rig the elections, Bhutto had collected information of a secret ISI rigging cell based in a house in Islamabad, which she planned to present to the Republican senator Arlen Specter and the Democrat congressman Patrick Kennedy.

Around 2pm, the two women climbed into her armoured, white Toyota Land Cruiser with an entourage of five men, including Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who had led her party while she was in exile, and Senator Safdar Abbas, Naheed’s husband and also a long-time aide.

As they left manicured Islamabad for the dusty streets of Rawalpindi, passers-by waved at the motorcade. In front was a blue police van and a black Mercedes containing her security chief and other officials. Behind were two pick-up trucks of her bodyguards.

Once they reached Rawalpindi and saw people massing, Bhutto stood up as usual. “ ’Pindi was hard for her,” said Naheed. Her father was killed in ’Pindi jail and she was too much excited. It was a huge gathering, we weren’t expecting, and such a charged crowd.”

As they drove out of the back of the park with dusk falling, the gates were opened. The crowd flooded out and gathered round her chanting “Jiye Bhutto” [long live Bhutto], “wazir-i-azam Benazir” [prime minister Benazir]. She stood up, climbing on the seat so that she could be seen.

Then they heard shooting. “Suddenly I felt some pressure, she had fallen on me,” said Naheed. She sobs as she recalls cradling Bhutto’s bleeding head. “She was completely unconscious, her blood seeping over me. That scene is still going on in front of me two years on,” she said.

All those in the car, and her spokeswoman Sherry Rehman, in the car behind, insist that Bhutto fell first, then a bomb went off. “As soon as she ducked down, after three to four seconds there was a bomb blast,” said Naheed. Safdar checked Bhutto’s pulse. “There was nothing.”

A bodyguard shouted “Move the car!” but the left tyres had burst in the blast. The backup car had mysteriously disappeared, so the bodyguard carried her into Sherry Rehman’s 4x4 and they rushed to Rawalpindi general hospital.

“I thought she was already dead,” said Zahid, the driver, showing the back seat of the Jeep where the bloodstains are still visible. “She was unconscious and bleeding from the left side of her neck and top right of her skull.”

At the hospital, doctors tried to resuscitate her. Sherry Rehman describes the chaos of bloodied, injured and dead victims being brought in and party workers crowding the building. Rehman found Naheed and Makhdoom Fahim in a state of shock. “The hospital wanted us to get the body out,” she said. “The whole place was heaving with people. Makhdoom and I created a diversion by driving out so they could get the body out without supporters realising. It didn’t occur to us to demand the medical report. I was sure she was shot, I heard the shots, then our heads being shoved down in the drill we’d had since Karachi, then the boom of the bomb. We never thought anyone would contradict this.”

In Dubai, Bhutto’s family had been watching on television. “All we knew was something had happened,” said Zardari. “I said, ‘Arrange a plane.’ When I came back into the room, the TV was announcing she was dead.” Bhutto’s body was placed in a makeshift plywood coffin and taken to the nearby military airbase of Chaklala.

Around 1am, the family arrived, and both they and the coffin were flown to Moenjodaro in the southern province of Sindh, to drive through the night to Bhutto’s ancestral home town of Naudero. In keeping with the Muslim tradition, she was buried the next day.

On December 30, just three days after her death, Zardari summoned a meeting of the party’s central executive committee. He asked their son, Bilawal, to read out a handwritten letter from Bhutto to the PPP. It stated: “I would like my husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best. I say this because he is a man of courage and honour.”

Zardari told me afterwards he had no idea she had drawn up such a will. “The day her remains came to Naudero, a person came from Dubai and said, ‘I have this document Madam left with me.’ ” He said he did not know the person.

It was dated October 16, two days before Bhutto returned to Pakistan. “That was the day she’d been warned not to go back,” Zardari said, “and she wrote that letter to Musharraf showing apprehensions about certain people.”

In a shrewd move, Zardari named their son, Bilawal, as co-chairman, adding Bhutto to his name to make him Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and said he would take over the leadership when he was old enough. Bilawal was then only 19, and starting his second term at Christ Church college, Oxford. He freely admitted he was more interested in Facebook and movies than politics.

Still in shock, nobody on the party’s executive questioned the document. Afterwards, Fahim, the party’s former leader, who had expected to take over, told me he was astonished that Bhutto would hand the party over to Zardari. Known in Pakistan as Mr Ten Per Cent, his alleged corruption was thought to be largely responsible for the demise of both Bhutto’s governments.

Torn apart with grief, Naheed was also too stunned to say anything. “She never mentioned it [the will] to me, nor had I seen it,” she told me.

Back in Islamabad, the Musharraf government appeared to be in panic. Within an hour of the attack the scene had been washed down with high-pressure hoses, wiping out almost all the evidence. Saud Aziz, then chief of Rawalpindi police, said he issued these orders after receiving a phone call from a close associate of Musharraf. The interior ministry said they were worried about “vultures picking up body parts”.

This was in stark contrast to what had happened after two assassination attempts on Musharraf in the same city, when the area had been sealed off for weeks.

With the country in chaos, there was an unseemly rush to announce the cause of death and to name an assassin. At 5pm on Friday December 28, less than 24 hours after her death, Brigadier Javed Cheema, the interior ministry spokesman, held a press conference. He said the hospital report showed Bhutto had been killed by striking the lever of the sunroof as she ducked to avoid the bomb. “There was no bullet or metal shrapnel found in the injury,” he said.

He also said intelligence services had intercepted a call from Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Pakistani Taliban, proving he was behind it. A transcript was later made available — though no audio tape — on which the militant leader is self-congratulatory and gives away his location. A week later, journalists including myself were called in to our respective embassies to be told that MI6 and the CIA had authenticated the transcript and were convinced Baitullah had carried out the attack. The former Pakistani cricket captain-turned-politician Imran Khan was incredulous. “The day after the murder they produce a tape of Baitullah saying, ‘I’m sitting here, tomorrow I’ll be having breakfast. Well done, boys.’ Is this a joke? The guy is being hunted down, on the run. Would he be talking like that?”

Baitullah insisted he was not responsible. “I strongly deny it,” he said via his spokesman, Maulvi Omar. “Tribal people have their own customs. We don’t strike women.”

In years of reporting on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, never once had I known them not take responsibility for something. Moreover, Bhutto had told me that after the Karachi attack Baitullah had sent a message saying: “Identify your enemy. I’m not your foe.”

Meanwhile, footage had emerged in which a clean-shaven man in dark glasses was clearly visible waving a gun and firing three shots. A TV station had filmed bullets lying on the ground. Other footage showed Bhutto’s chief bodyguard, Khalid Shahenshah, gesticulating strangely from the stage as Bhutto left.

Aside from Bhutto, 22 others were killed in the attack. Family members told Pakistani media that some had bullet wounds. But no autopsies were carried out, even though they are required by law.

I started my own investigation in the sprawling port city of Karachi on the basis that whoever had tried to kill her there on October 17 was probably the same person that eventually got her.

That bombing was Pakistan’s most lethal terrorist attack, yet I was shocked to find from the local police chief that there was no investigation under way. It wasn’t even clear whether it was a suicide bomb or a car bomb, though a retired army colonel who lived round the corner sent me photographs of a burnt-out car that had its chassis number scratched off so it could not be identified.

Many of those who died were “Martyrs for Benazir”, young party volunteers who formed a human chain round the bus and prevented the bomb getting nearer. One was 25-year-old Intukhab Alam. I went to see his widowed father, Mahmood Yunis, 70, in Muhammadi Colony, Liaquatabad, one of the poorest parts of Karachi. He cannot believe the government is not investigating Bhutto’s death. “My son was a small person, but she was a great leader,” he said. “No Zardari can take her place.”

Someone else with little time for Zardari is Benazir’s niece Fatima. It was eerie going to see her: she lives in 70 Clifton, the house of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her grandfather and Benazir’s father. He was the first Bhutto to be murdered, hanged by his former army chief, General Zia, in 1979.

Fatima was just 14 in September 1996 when her father, Murtaza, the elder of Benazir’s two brothers, was gunned down on the street, along with six of his men. The murder scene was also washed clean before investigators could arrive.

Fatima and her stepmother, Ghinwa, Murtaza’s second wife, invited me to stay for lunch. They talked of the rivalry between Zardari and Murtaza, who they told me kept a cartoon of his brother-in-law genuflecting to the Sultan of Oman in the guest toilet. It is clear who his wife and daughter believe responsible for his death. “The orders could have only come from the highest levels,” said Fatima. Her Aunt Benazir was prime minister at the time.

Bhutto’s friends and family say she was devastated by Murtaza’s death. Her cousin Tariq Islam accompanied her to the morgue in Karachi. “We went to the cold room where his blood-soaked body was and she collapsed, put her head between his feet and cried and howled, ‘You’re my baby brother, don’t do this to me.’ ”

Bhutto, who was prime minister at the time, called in a Scotland Yard team to investigate and asked Islam to be the liaison person. “Even though it was her government, they were stymied at every turn,” he said. “They wanted to see the scene, but within hours it had been pressure-washed. They wanted to see the vehicle in which Murtaza’s body was flung and taken to hospital but were told it had been taken to a garage.”

Six weeks after the murder, a coup took place and Benazir was ousted as prime minister. Scotland Yard was sent home.

Zardari was detained for allegedly being involved in the murder, as well as a number of corruption cases. He was released from jail into exile in 2004 by Musharraf and acquitted on the murder charge in 2008 owing to lack of evidence.

Last December, 18 police officers also alleged to have been involved in Murtaza’s murder were all acquitted. Some had been highly promoted. “Shoaib Suddle, the police chief who was there on the night, was made head of the IB,” said Fatima. “Zardari’s defence lawyer in the case is now attorney general.”

Similarly, following Benazir’s death, nobody has lost their job despite clear lapses in security and failures to investigate. Bhutto’s security chief, Rehman Malik, who disappeared with the backup car, is now interior minister and Zardari’s closest adviser. “My enemies are talking nonsense that I ran away,” he said when I asked why he left the spot. “I wasn’t a security officer that I had to be there. I’m not a guard or a gunman.”

Musharraf’s interior secretary, Kamal Shah, is still in his post, though it was his ministry that put out the version of events Bhutto’s friends and family dispute. Saud Aziz, who ordered the roads to be washed, was transferred to Multan, the prime minister’s constituency, but was suspended last week following the UN report.

Then there is the unexplained shooting of Benazir’s bodyguard Khalid Shahenshah, who was also in the car the night of her killing. I tracked down his best friend, Mohammed Yarwar, a former US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent, who met me in a house full of caged snakes on a busy Karachi road. A student activist for the party, Shahenshah ran a grocery store in Connecticut and seems a strange choice as chief bodyguard. “We hung out in New York,” said Yarwar. “He had a connection with Zardari and got to know Benazir because he would drive her when she visited.”

Shahenshah was heading security at Bhutto’s residence in Karachi, Bilawal House, when, on July 22, 2008, Yarwar got a panicked call from one of his guards, who was outside his friend’s house. “He was screaming, ‘There’s firing going on!’ ”

The guard later told him that Shahenshah had arrived home and got out of his car outside the gate. A small car approached with three men inside who began firing. “They shot 62 rounds, of which seven bullets hit Khalid,” said Yarwar. The car was later abandoned. Yarwar denied rumours that it was a gangland killing. “There was no proper investigation,” he said. “People say he might have known something about Benazir’s death. If he did, he never told me: all he ever said was that she was definitely shot. But I don’t like it. I’ve quit the PPP. ”

Fear is tangible when I start asking about Benazir’s death, something the UN commission noted, describing themselves as “mystified by the efforts of certain high-ranking government authorities to obstruct access”.

In Rawalpindi I went first to Liaquat Road, where Benazir was killed. The spot is marked by a garish painting of her on a red background surrounded by what look like pink bathroom tiles. In front lay a dried-up wreath. Behind a few barricades was a cabin where five policemen were sitting around drinking tea under a lightbulb hanging from a wire.

When I started to take photographs they became animated, telling me to go away. They noted down my driver’s numberplate, after which he refused to take me anywhere else.

I hailed another cab to take me to Rawalpindi’s police headquarters and found the charming chief police officer, Rao Iqbal. When I asked what was the usual procedure after a bombing, he said: “Our priority is to get life back to normal and remove all the rubble, but after collecting the evidence, not before.” Why did this not happen after Bhutto’s death? “The orders may have come through the mouth of CPO Saud Aziz, but it was a government agency that ordered the washing, not a policeman,” he replied, adding: “In my view it should not have been washed.”

As a result, they collected only 23 pieces of evidence, in a case where there would normally be thousands. One of the pieces was her car, and that had also been washed of any evidence. The UN commission pulled no punches, stating: “The failure of the police to investigate effectively Ms Bhutto’s assassination was deliberate.”

Police did find the blown-off face of the suicide bomber, who they say was a 15-year-old boy, on a roof. And to my surprise they told me they have five suspects in custody picked up in 2008, and five more they plan to arrest. They believe they were recruited from madrasahs and part of a team sent to target Bhutto in different cities — but they did not seem to be interested in who had sent them.

The lack of evidence has made it very difficult to establish how Bhutto died. Under pressure, Musharraf called in Scotland Yard to investigate her death. They backed his government’s version that Bhutto died after hitting her head, rather than from an assassin’s bullet. Yet every single person in her car insists she fell before the blast.

I went to the hospital hoping to see Professor Mussadiq, who led attempts to resuscitate Bhutto. I was first refused entry, then told he was at the Holy Family hospital. When I got there, they told me he was not at work. Eventually I met one of the other doctors who attended her; he would only speak off the record.

“Our main concern was saving her life, not what caused the injury, because that is done in an autopsy,” he said. “We all thought she had been shot.”

Because she was an emergency patient, the medical team had made no official report, just clinical notes. They were horrified then when the interior-ministry spokesman held the press conference in which he cited their report, attributing the cause of death to hitting the lever of the sunroof.

“They were very perturbed,” said Athar Minallah, the lawyer who sits on the hospital board. “When they couldn’t revive her, they told the police chief three times there needed to be an autopsy. He was constantly on the phone to someone else and refused, even though by law it’s mandatory.”

If how Bhutto died cannot be properly established, it seems unlikely we will ever find out who did it. In August last year, Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban suspect, was killed by an American drone.

The person fingered by Bhutto, Musharraf, now lives in exile in London, accompanied everywhere by six Scotland Yard officers. Before Christmas I met him at a dinner at the home of a mutual Pakistani friend, where he lounged on the sofa, drinking whisky, smoking a fat cigar and handing out £50 notes to the singers.

When a reporter asked him if he had blood on his hands, he retorted that the question was “below my dignity”, going on to say: “My family is not a family which believes in killing people. For standing up outside the car I think she was to blame — nobody else. Responsibility is hers.”

The UN disagrees. “Ms Bhutto’s assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken,” states the report. Describing the government protection as “fatally insufficient”, they point out that there were few police present to guard her, and that those posted on roofs to watch for threats did not even have binoculars.

Ask most Pakistanis who killed Benazir and they ask who benefited. A Google search on Zardari turns up Zardari jokes, Zardari corruption, Zardari assets and Zardari killed Benazir as among the most common searches. Bhutto had told friends that she would not let her husband be involved in politics again. The plan was for him to stay in Dubai. They had lived separate lives for years. He argues this was because in 20 years of marriage, he spent 11 years in jail. But when he was released, instead of Dubai he went to New York, ostensibly for medical treatment.

Her closest friends say the will is in her writing, and they believe she wanted to keep the party in the family, in the South Asian tradition. “She thought it would split into factions otherwise,” said Bashir Riaz, who knew her all her life. But they are at a loss to explain why, when Zardari became Pakistan’s president in September 2008, he did not begin an investigation.

I put this to Zardari when I went to his house in Islamabad. “The stature of Bhutto called for an independent, transparent and above-board investigation so no accusation of bias could be made,” he said. “This is bigger than us.”

He showed me a framed copy of the will. “This was the joker in the pack,” he said. “Whoever killed her wanted a weak PPP minus Benazir. They thought they would get their own choice.”

His interior minister, Malik, claimed the government are now investigating and will soon release their own report. “We are after just one more person, then the circle will be complete,” Malik said.

“I don’t want nine people strung up to avenge her death — it’s the whole system,” said Zardari. “Only when we’re prospering and we’re Singapore will she be avenged.”

Fine words. Last week, Pakistan’s parliament voted to repeal a constitutional amendment used by military dictators to give themselves sweeping powers. But it remains a nation besieged by bombings and power cuts where militant leaders go free, even holding public rallies, and intelligence agencies make people disappear. When a government delegation went to Washington last month it was clear that the army chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, was the real power. This is the same army whose generals suggested to Zardari last time Bhutto was prime minister that he replace her because they didn’t like saluting to a woman.