Nearly ten years after the assassination of one of Pakistan’s most popular leaders, Benazir Bhutto, an anti-terrorism court has announced its verdict, leaving the case where it began: shrouded in mystery. Two senior police officers, an AIG and SP, have been sentenced to 17-year imprisonment for criminal negligence and “causing disappearance of evidence of offence” while five suspects allegedly linked with the terrorist organisation, TTP, have been acquitted for lack of evidence. Former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, on whose watch Benazir was murdered, has been declared an absconder with orders for the attachment of his moveable and immovable properties. But the strangest thing about the verdict is its silence on who committed the murder, and on whose behalf.
Before she returned from self-exile, the slain leader had expressed fears that her life was in danger, and said the same in an e-mail to her lobbyist and friend in America, Mark Seigel, citing her telephonic conversation with General Musharraf in which he made provision of security to her conditional on their mutual understanding and relations. Her homecoming procession was bombed near Karsaz on Karachi’s Sharae Faisal on October 18, 2007. Though she survived that attempt at least 180 people were killed. Two months later, she was murdered along with a dozen others in a bomb-and-gun attack. The case is full of suspicions about systemic failures from the scene of the attack to investigations. The police officer in charge of Benazir’s security at her Liaquat Bagh rally in Rawalpindi was suddenly ordered back; contrary to the standard practice of preserving a crime scene, the place was immediately hosed down; and her body was handed to her family without conducting mandatory autopsy. Her party, the PPP, too made compromises due to exigencies of power. After it returned to govern headed by her husband, no serious attempt was made to bring her assassins to account. The Karsaz case was never pursued. Although on its request a UN inquiry commission was formed, necessary follow-up action was not taken on the commission report that, among other things, said “a range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Benazir Bhutto, and second to investigate with vigour all responsible for her murder not only in the execution of the attack but also in its conception, planning and financing.”
No wonder, the ATC verdict has failed to address the key question, who did it? Although the PPP has not been a party to the court case, it now wants the government to immediately file an appeal against the decision, while Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has termed it as “disappointing and unacceptable.” Meanwhile, the prosecution has indicated it would file an appeal against the acquittal of the five suspects after Eid holidays. That though won’t be enough. Full facts of this dark chapter in this country’s chequered history must be unveiled. The mastermind of the attack ought be exposed and brought to justice without any further loss of time.