Three arrests and releases later, Bhatti’s probe trail goes cold

On the first anniversary of former minorities’ affairs minister’s murder, the investigators are back to square...

Umer Nangiana March 02, 2012


“No solid leads could be found to direct the investigations the right way,” said a police official who has been closely associated with the investigation of the case. “The details have been murky since the beginning,” he divulged, on condition of anonymity.

In a year since the assassination, three suspects have been arrested and subsequently released due to lack of evidence.

Pastor’s suspicions

The false lead, now cold, started with a phone call from an alim-turned-pastor Hafiz Nazar. Nazar called a minorities’ lawmaker from a provincial assembly, and claimed he knew the people behind Bhatti’s assassination.

The pastor was arrested by Karachi police in March last year, and handed over to Islamabad police as a possible suspect. During interrogation, he named two businessmen from Faisalabad, Ziaur Rehman and Malik Abid, as possible suspects.

“At that time, the investigators were probably working to find real clues and Nazar distracted them,” said the police official privy to the investigations. Nazar could not substantially prove the two businessmen’s involvement though, the police official said.

“He had only speculated that the two men could have property disputes with Bhatti as they belonged to his native town,” he added.

The pastor was questioned by the investigators multiple times before being booked. But the court released him on the first hearing for lack of evidence.

Lack of evidence

After almost a year-long hunt, the first suspect, Rehman, was arrested by the Interpol and local police authorities from Dubai on the request of Islamabad police in early February 2012.

A week later, the second suspect, Abid, was arrested by the capital police from Lahore airport on his arrival from Dubai.

Both Rehman and Abid were suspected of involvement in Bhatti’s murder but the suspicions were not backed by strong evidence. Islamabad police, therefore, asked the court to discharge Abid a week after his arrest.

Rehman was also set free by Dubai authorities after he proved his innocence before them. He provided them evidence that he was not present in Pakistan when Bhatti was murdered. He said he had no enmity with Bhatti and was being falsely accused in the case. Dubai police and Interpol released him, but retained his passport.

“The two men were never the right men to go after,” said the official. “But the police had no option. There were no real clues.”

The ‘trusted’ driver

The Islamabad police, therefore, is as clueless at present, as it was a year ago.

“There are scattered clues that need to be put together for a fresh start,” said the police official.

Bhatti’s driver, for instance, survived the attack and needed to be interrogated but the minister’s family denied access to him saying he was ‘the most trusted man’ of the family.

There were several discrepancies in his statements to the police though, the official said.

“I still believe the driver knows much more than he told us,” he added. “He can be a starting point if you ask me to restart investigations.” Bhatti’s car was sprayed with bullets. There is no way the driver could have been spared by simply, as he told the police, ducking under.

“The driver had seen them. Why did the assailants not kill him to eliminate evidence against them?” the official asked.

“Okay, let’s presume they made a mistake, even then the driver is important for the investigators,” he said, adding that the police should be given access to the driver.

‘Inside’ job

Another police official, who was closely involved in the investigations, said that the assailants were aware of Bhatti’s routine.

They knew Bhatti was using his office as his residence only as a cover, and was in fact still going back to his mother’s house at night, he said. “The killers knew this, and planned the ambush accordingly,” he said, adding that someone from the ‘inside’ was in contact with the killers.

What about the pamphlets scattered at the crime scene that claimed it was a blasphemy-related murder? It could be a distraction, he replied. The police have no solid clues either way.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2012.


Umar | 9 years ago | Reply

Was anything else expected?

Z.Khan | 9 years ago | Reply

By the way where are the big claims of SC suo motu action. One slap incident jolts the whole court and with in hours all are summoned to make the statements. People belonging to miniority groups are daily killed in addition to so many other difficulties. What honorable CJ Ch Iftikhar has to say in it?

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