Liaquat Bagh assassination: Four years on, Benazir’s case can begin

Published: November 6, 2011
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Charges framed against 7 suspects in the case, including Shehzad, Aziz who were in charge during BB’s assassination.

Charges framed against 7 suspects in the case, including Shehzad, Aziz who were in charge during BB’s assassination.

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.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • MK
    Nov 5, 2011 - 2:36PM

    wt a beautiful of nation’s lady who we lost shamefully

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  • mian
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:15PM

    PPP needs to start living in the present now. And stop overly glorifying the bhuttos. It is shameful that all of them accept without question bilawal’s appointment as chairman. Do none of them have any faith in their own abilities. or is the party really owned by just one family?

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  • Pakistani Hindu
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:19PM

    That was quick.. Salute to ATC and our Govt.

    Recommend

  • Rehan
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:20PM

    @Haider:
    And how exactly was she incompetent and corrupt? First point: 6% Economic growth rate during her second tenure as Prime-minister, with trade sanctions. According to most economists, that was pure economic genius. Keep in mind that Musharraf could barely get that growth rate during his tenure when there were no sanctions and money was flowing in from the west. Furthermore, she created a surplus of electricity, when just a year before she had taken over, there was a severe deficit. And lastly, in 1993, Pakistan was on the brink of being declared a terrorist nation. She single-handedly brought Pakistan back into the main-stream through her practical diplomacy with the world.
    As for corrupt, PLEASE, PLEASE, prove even ONE case against her. People have tried again and again, from Zia to Nawaz to Musharraf, but all have failed to PROVE even ONE case! Why don’t the educated middle-classes of the country realize that Ms. Bhutto’s reputation was always tarnished by the media wing of a certain agency, purely because she was a practical leader. All policy experts, Pakistani and non-Pakistani alike, have commented on this. Numerous attempts by the establishment were made to destabilize her government and tarnish her reputation, by these fabrications that were just utter lies. And yet, our sad, brainwashed citizens continue to feed into this nonsensical propaganda.
    I could say more, but these comments depress me more than they make me want to debate. our country is not illiterate; our country is sadly ignorant, and no amount of investment in education will change that.
    Warmest Regards,
    Rehan Zahid

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  • Rehan
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:23PM

    Furthermore, will someone please explain to me why exactly do these militants – who have connections with the DEEP state – only target the PPP? Anyone find it even a bit strange? Benazir was the true revolutionary.
    Regards,
    RehanRecommend

  • MAHER ALI
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:37PM

    We all know 1 person, but his name is no indicated….

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  • Malik
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:51PM

    I wonder why they didnt choose to trial persons pointed out by herself that could attempt the murder.

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  • no more
    Nov 5, 2011 - 3:56PM

    We Pakistanis have it in our nature to glorify the ones who are dead.Recommend

  • Kirmani
    Nov 5, 2011 - 4:25PM

    I am concerned for Hina Khar – with all the popularity in India and US and forward looking ideas, she should be careful.
    It is no country for smart, good looking leaders.

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  • yameen khan
    Nov 5, 2011 - 4:45PM

    u r dearly missed BB. Rest in peace.

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  • Kirmani
    Nov 5, 2011 - 6:05PM

    @MAHER ALI:

    I fully agree. No wonder he doesn’t want to come back. Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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  • Azmat
    Nov 5, 2011 - 6:36PM

    @Rehan:

    Can you cite your sources for all that wall of text?

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  • sana naeem
    Nov 5, 2011 - 6:53PM

    @ rehan, agree with u ,sir.
    ”We r prepared 2 risk our lives, we r prepared 2 risk our liberty, but , we r not prepared 2 surrender our great nation 2 the miltants” Benazir Bhutto statement after surviving assassination attempt at karsaz.
    ”life and death is in the hands of God and that is what makes me to stare in the eyes of death without fear.”

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  • Ahmed Raza
    Nov 5, 2011 - 7:40PM

    @mian:
    I agree. Apart from ZAB, all the other Bhutto`s are highly overrated. What did Benazir prove in her two-time government? The PPP today is a hopeless, corrupt entity that will ruin this country if it is not stopped. What we need is a complete change from our conventional politics and politicians. A new generation of decision-makers, so to speak, governing under strict ethics and a fair, impartial judicial system. Only that can be the way forward. Perhaps, and only perhaps, Imran Khan can provide this change. In the severely limited field of reliable candidates available for designation, he seems the most honest by far. I certainly am inclined to hope so….Recommend

  • Infidel Humanist
    Nov 6, 2011 - 1:29AM

    From a separate NY Times article …

    But it also said that Mr. Aziz gave the order after receiving a call from army headquarters, possibly involving Maj. Gen. Nadeem Ijaz Ahmad, then director general of military intelligence

    Hanging a bunch of low-life thugs from FATA is not going to change anything.

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