Benazir Bhutto was shot and killed on December 27, 2007, after she had just finished speaking at an election rally at Rawalpindi’s famous Liaquat Bagh. A suicide bomber as young as fifteen is blamed for her death.
After 15 years, and despite several national and international investigations, the trial of the first female premier of a Muslim country remains cloaked in mystery.
The Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) is now hearing one of the most high-profile cases in Pakistan’s complicated history.
More than twenty party members were killed, and seventy-one were injured, in the attack on the ex-prime minister.
After the tragic event, four separate investigations were launched into the high-profile case, one each by the police joint investigation team (JIT), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the United Nations (UN), and Scotland Yard. However, the Bhutto family did not take the matter to the special anti-terrorism court, therefore all of the inquiries and investigations were fruitless.
In this case, 12 challans were issued, 355 court appearances were recorded, 10 judges were replaced, and 141 witnesses testified; 68 of them were for the prosecution.
In addition, only eight of the accused were actually apprehended, while sixteen were named in the press. Key suspect and Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was assassinated in a drone attack.
Five additional suspects were also slain in confrontations with intelligence agents; they are Nadir Khan alias Qari, Nasrullah, Abdullah alias Saddam, Ikramullah, and Faiz Muhammad Kaskat.
It has been confirmed that Saeed Blakel was the suicide bomber who attempted to assassinate the previous prime minister. The rubble was dropped on the five suspects, Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Rashid Ahmed, Rafaqat, and Hasnain Gul.
Former President General (r) Pervez Musharraf, former City Police Officer (CPO) Saud Aziz, and former Superintendent of Police (SP) Rawal Khurram Shehzad were all detained by the FIA for their roles in the case. However, the supreme court ultimately released them on bail.
After nine years, on August 31, 2017, at Adiala Jail, Judge Muhammad Asghar Khan of the special ATC announced the judgement, acquitting five of the defendants and declaring Musharraf a fugitive on absence, issuing perpetual arrest warrants and seizing his moveable and immovable property.
Meanwhile, two police officers, DIG Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shehzad, were sentenced to 17 years in jail and fined Rs1 million each for destroying evidence and breaching security.
However, three months later, the sentences were suspended and the two cops were freed from jail. The CPO has retired, and the SP has been promoted to the position of DIG.
Appeals by the accused and plaintiffs have been pending for almost four years before the LHC’s Rawalpindi bench, and are likely to be heard in the final week of February.
To raise the penalties of the police officers and to begin prosecution against Musharraf in his absence, former president Asif Ali Zardari has filed an appeal in the high court against the acquittal of the five defendants in the case.
Both the FIA and the police officers who were found guilty have appealed their convictions and subsequent penalties.
Aitzaz Shah, Sherzaman, and Rafaqat, the three exonerated defendants, are now free. In the meanwhile, two of the accused, Rasheed Ahmed and Hasnain Gul, remain in Adiala Jail.
Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a prominent prosecutor for the federal government, was slain by terrorists while he investigated the crime.
While in power for five years following Benazir’s murder, the PPP did little to forward this investigation. During the time that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was in office, the lawsuit was eventually resolved in part.
No one knows when the lawsuit and any appeals will be resolved, but it seems destined for the Supreme Court (SC).