One of the two suspects in the murder case of former minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was arrested in Dubai with the help of the International Police (Interpol). He was still to be repatriated to Pakistan after fulfilling legal formalities, which are likely to take over a week.
Officials attached to the case were not too optimistic of the arrest proving to be a breakthrough in investigations. “The names of these two suspects were given by someone who was already released by the court on account of being mentally unstable,” a police official said on Saturday on the condition of anonymity.
Ziaur Rehman and Malik Abid, both residents of Faisalabad, were identified as possible suspects by a pastor named Hafiz Nazar, who was arrested by the Karachi police in March last year. He was arrested and handed over to Islamabad after the Karachi police intercepted his phone calls made to a minorities’ member of the Punjab Assembly from Sargodha.
“However, this man (Hafiz Nazar) proved to be mentally unstable and was later released. He was called in for questioning many times after, but did not prove to be of any use,” said a police official who had investigated Nazar.
Nazar mentioned the names Rehman and Abid, and ‘suspected’ that these two could be involved in murdering Bhatti over property issues. The police said the suspects were not in Pakistan and were later found to be in Dubai.
The Islamabad police approached the Interpol for their arrest. Recently, the Interpol informed them that Zia-ur-Rehman was arrested, while Malik Abid was still at large. However, it was not clear if he had fled or was still in Dubai.
“To treat them as prime suspects would be wrong. We have no evidence to suggest that they were involved in the murder even though they could have certain issues with him,” said the police official.
Both suspects belonged to Faisalabad, the former minister’s native city. They had differences with Bhatti over property issues, “but they were not capable of carrying out such a high-profile assassination,” said the official.
“Investigations regarding the case were muddy and not carried out in a proper manner, some evidence points towards sectarian or militant violence,” he added. “Now that one of them was arrested, he would be interrogated to establish what they know about the murder.”
The only person who mentioned the suspects in his conversations, Hafiz Nazar, a former pastor, had allegedly made a telephone call to a member of the Punjab Assembly from Sargodha, Tahir Nazeer Chaudhry, and discussed possible suspects involved in the murder.
However, he retreated from his claims before the police, maintaining that they were only assumptions.
Islamabad police in June last year produced him before an anti-terrorism court (ATC) which released him on the basis of lack of evidence. Instead of the arrest triggering optimism about the closure of the case, the official said: “I am afraid that information from him would take us back to the start of investigations.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2012.