Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007. An Anti-terrorism Court (ATC) delivered verdict on her killing on August 31, 2017. It took nearly ten years for the judgement.
Neither family members of Pakistan’s late Prime Minister nor the common people are satisfied with the ruling. The Court acquitted five Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accused, declared former Pakistan’s President Gen Pervez Musharrf as fugitive and announced 17 years imprisonment to two police officers.
Asif Ali Zardari, former President of Pakistan and husband of Benazir, expressed his dissatisfaction with the ruling and said they will appeal against the verdict. Eight judges were changed in the ten year long hearing of the case. The two police officials were accused of negligence in security arrangements, which led to the killing of the former PM. No autopsy was ever conducted. Khurram Shahzad, a police officer, was accused of hosing down the crime scene in less than two hours after the assassination took place. UN in its report described this act as ‘fundamentally inconsistent with Pakistani police practice’. It made it difficult to collect some evidence required for DNA tests.
The ATC had named Musharraf in the case in February 2011. The Court has also directed authorities to seize Musharraf’s properties and issue perpetual arrest warrant. In 2013, Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) special prosecutor was shot dead. The hearing was held under various kinds of threats. Musharraf left Pakistan and has been in self-imposed exile in Dubai since a travel ban was lifted last year. There was lot of criticism against government for lifting his travel ban.
Musharraf responded by saying, “I will certainly come back to Pakistan and face the trial, as and when I am medically fit.” He also said, “I have been framed in Benazir Bhutto murder case by way of political victimisation, while I had nothing to do with her untimely and tragic death.” Former military ruler and President is alleged to have been part of a conspiracy to eliminate Benazir. Musharraf government had accused then Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud for the assassination. Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in 2009.
Many questions remained unanswered even after the ruling. They are like who were responsible for the killing, planning and conspiracy. Whether there was any cover up? If so, who were they? What role then government played in providing security? The two police officials may be pawns in the bigger conspiracy. But, the issue is who planned the conspiracy. It is a well known fact that Benazir had a threat and she returned to Pakistan against the advice of her friends and Musharraf government.
The five Taliban suspects were acquitted due to lack of evidence. Pakistan’s first PM Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in Rawalpindi. Till today, it is not clear who were behind his murder. Benazir was assassinated near Liaquat Baug, Rawlapindi, after addressing an election rally. She was against religious extremists and in her last speech also she criticised religious extremists and rising militancy. Two months before her death, Benazir had sent an email to her friend and journalist Mark Siegel saying, “If something happens to me (Benazir), Musharraf should be held responsible for that”. Musharraf was against Benazir’s returning to Pakistan. Siegel testified before ATC via video link from the US in which he said that on September 25, 2007, he was with Benazir Bhutto when she received a call from Musharraf. He claimed that Benazir was shivering after the call.
The five acquitted Taliban suspects will be a threat to Pakistan and its citizens. Pakistan needs to act against militants of every terrorist group. There cannot be friendly militant groups.
The UN had also released a report in 2010 on Benazir’s assassination. The report categorically held Musharraf administration responsible for failing to provide adequate security. At that time, the military establishment had reacted strongly to the UN report.
Ideally, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination case should not have taken ten long years. Such important and high profile cases need to be heard on a regular basis. The truth must come out who planned the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and who were involved in the conspiracy. Pakistan needs to act tough against the terrorists. All such kinds of cases including case against Lashkar-e -Taiba’s (LeT) operations commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and six others accused of plotting a militant attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 must be expedited.