Four years have passed since October 18, 2007, and the truth about the massive bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto’s caravan on Karsaz road that killed at least 180 people, remains as hidden and rusty as the armoured truck that saved her life that day.
Wrapped in a marquee at the Aziz Bhatti police station, the dust-covered carcass of the huge machine with deflated tyres also reflects the state of the investigations made into the case since then. Both haven’t moved an inch forward.
Aziz Bhatti SHO Ihsanullah says he has no clue what the truck is doing with him. “I was posted here just a month ago,” he told The Express Tribune. “All I know is that even though around four SHOs have come and gone, this truck has stayed here since the Oct 18, 2007 attack.”
Slain Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto mentioned in her last book ‘Reconciliation’ that the truck was specially commissioned after the Musharraf regime refused to import special bulletproof vehicles for her safety.
“What my husband did manage to construct to protect [me] was a raised armour-plated flatbed truck where I would be four metres off the ground… the interior was also insulated in a way that was meant to ensure that it could survive even a direct bomb attack,” she wrote.
By Sunday PPP flags were raised on poles at the ill-fated Karsaz bridge where the attack took place. Preparations were under way for an expected anniversary ceremony to commemorate the dead. But none of the die-hard workers at the spot and even some PPP leaders had any clue of the location of the historic truck that gave their leader a new lease on life - even if it was for just another nine weeks.
Investigators today negate everything from the way the attack was carried out to the possible culprits involved that Benazir herself mentioned in her book. For example, the slain chairperson wrote that the bomb maker was “Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a wanted terrorist who had tried to overthrow my second government. He had been extradited by the UAE and was languishing in Karachi Central Jail. According to my source, officials in Lahore had turned to Qari Saifullah Akhtar for help.”
Special Investigation Unit SSP Raja Umer Khattab said, indeed, Akhtar was brought to Karachi and thoroughly interrogated by a joint investigation team about the attack. “However, he was cleared and was not found to be involved in the incident,” he said.
Other prisoners like Akhtar were also questioned about the Karsaz attack, but they were also not found to be involved, investigators added.
Bhutto also mentioned that a man had tried to send a baby up the ill-fated truck minutes before the blast. They had suspected that the baby’s clothes were lined with plastic explosives, which blew up when the man scuffled with policemen near a security van. Also, she said that 50 seconds later, a “15kg car bomb” was detonated.
However, the then SSP East Niaz Khosa, who today awaits posting, told The Express Tribune that, “Initially even we thought the same [thing]. But subsequent investigations proved that the twin explosions were caused by two suicide bombers.” In fact, Khosa went on to say that the baby and the man were also traced, and are alive since both survived the blast. Bhutto mentioned that four suicide squads - one prepared by the then Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Amir Baitullah Mehsud, another by Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, another by Lal Masjid militants, and a Karachi-based militant group (presumably Jundallah) - were ready to strike her on Karsaz on October 18, 2007.
But according to SSP Khattab, “the mastermind of the Karsaz blast was the same as the one who was involved in the attack on Benazir on December 27, 2007, in Rawalpindi that eventually killed her.” For his part, Crime Investigation Department’s Counter Terrorism Unit SSP Chaudhry Aslam Khan argued that in his mind, there was no doubt that this was the work of Baitullah Mehsud.
Another senior investigator says the main accused in the case is a handler of suicide bombers named Wahab Mehsud. He supposedly gave shelter to the two suicide bombers involved in the attack in Karachi’s Kunwari colony. Even though Wahab’s brother was nabbed, the culprit himself remains a fugitive and investigators guess he may have escaped to Waziristan.
Around 180 people died that day. Two brothers, 40-year-old Sajjid and 37-year-old Tariq, were among them.
A relative Mohsin Maqbool, who lives in Gulshan, recalled how it all happened. “They were not affiliated with any political party. They just went out to catch a glimpse of Benazir when they heard on TV that she was about to pass by near their home,” he said. They never returned. “The emotional toll on the victim’s wives has been tremendous. Sajjid’s widow Uzma remains disturbed to this day and says she doesn’t want to remarry because she’s too scared the same tragedy might repeat in her life.” Tariq’s widow is supporting her two children by teaching.
“So much has been said about the Karsaz tragedy already,” says Mohsin. “But what we, the victims’ families, really want is to know what really is the truth? Somebody …somebody out there owes us an explanation.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2011.