RAWALPINDI: Close to four years since the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, legal proceedings on the matter have finally seen some headway.
An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi indicted seven men on Saturday in a case pertaining to the murder of the former premier.
Since the murder, a number of investigative reports, including one each by the United Nations and Scotland Yard, had been compiled on the incident, but no formal legal charges had been framed.
The indictment means that the case will now formally move on from the investigation stage and into full-fledged legal proceedings against the seven men. However, some high-profile names have not been included.
The indictment itself has taken several months, most of which have been spent on the indictment of two high-ranking police officers, and on trying to summon former president Pervez Musharraf.
The two police officers have now been charged with changing the security plan in place for Benazir on the day she was slain.
Aside from the police officers, five militants also face charges of being involved in the December 27, 2007, gun and bomb attack that killed 24 people and injured 71 others outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh.
Saturday’s hearing was held behind closed doors in Rawalpindi by Special Judge of ATC-I Shahid Rafique.
“They have been charged with conspiracy as well as abetment in the murder,” Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a government prosecutor, told Reuters.
The five militants were charged with “criminal conspiracy” for bringing the suicide bomber from the tribal areas to Rawalpindi where he carried out the attack, another prosecutor Mohammad Azhar told Reuters.
The police officers, former Rawalpindi city police officer Saud Aziz and Superintendent of Police Khurram Shahzad, were charged with breach of security by “changing the security plan for BB [Benazir Bhutto]”, Azhar added.
All the seven accused, including Hasnain Gul, Rafaqat Hussain, Rasheed Ahmed and Aitzaz Shah, pleaded “not guilty” and decided to contest the charges, while Sher Zaman refused to sign the charge sheet against him.
What happens now
The court summoned five prosecution witnesses and put off the hearing till November 19, on the insistence of Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali for a speedy trial in a case that has been pending for a while now. In fact, Benazir’s heirs are said to have expressed their disappointment at the speed of the trial through a counsel.
The ATC summoned the five witnesses to record their statements on the next date of hearing. The prosecution witnesses who will record their statements on the next date of hearing include SP Aftab Khan, explosives expert Fazlur Rehman, Sub Inspector Asghar Ali who conducted the postmortem of the deceased, Sub Inspector Arshad Kalim who registered the FIR of the incident and constable Kashif Bashir who informed the city police station for recording the case.
What about the others?
While seven men were indicted, the higher-profile names remained off the charge-sheet.
The court put off the hearing on the application against the order declaring Pervez Musharraf a proclaimed offender in the case after his lawyer sought more time. Besides Musharraf, eight other men including former chief of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), now deceased Baitullah Mehsud, were declared proclaimed offenders in the case.
“Putting charges on these people, we must understand one thing. The court decides cases on the basis of investigations put before them. And if we look at the investigation of this case, it has been badly politicised. Politicised by the government and the international agencies that came over here,” Nadeem Iqbal, a Pakistani political commentator told Al Jazeera from Islamabad.
“Now you are just accusing and putting charges on a few police officers and making them the scapegoats, but what about the senior hands who gave orders and passed orders to these police officers.”
Another name that had popped up in the reports on the assassinations was that of then Military Intelligence (MI) chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ejaz.
A UN commission which had investigated Bhutto’s assassination had said in its report that Saud Aziz and Ejaz had hosed down the crime scene soon after the murder.
The commission also said that it was Saud Aziz who had not allowed doctors to conduct post mortem on Bhutto and later put the blame on her spouse Asif Ali Zardari. And this shows malafide intention on Saud’s part.
(With additional input from AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2011.