ISLAMABAD, July 7: For the last 30 days, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been celebrating the 59th birth anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, and observed black day for the undemocratic dismissal of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government in 1977.
However, the PPP government forgot to appoint an investigating officer in the Benazir assassination case, pending trial for over four-and-a-half years.
The investigating officer of the murder case, an additional director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), was posted to D. I. Khan on June 6. FIA authorities did not assign the job to any other official afterwards.
Sources in the FIA informed Dawn that despite the availability of dozens of officials, the authorities could not appoint the investigating officer.
They said after his appointment as director general of the FIA, Fayyaz Leghari assigned Director Inam Ghani the task of heading the special investigation unit, the FIA administration, and Director Zonal. They also said that Mr Ghani was responsible for the appointment of the investigating officer but he overlooked the matter due to a heavy workload.
According to Saleemullah Khan, a retired inspector general, the presence of the investigating officer in the court is indispensable in such a high-profile case because the accused are alleged terrorists and linked with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
He also said that the investigating officer in such cases has a major responsibility: to not only assist the court but also protect the prosecution witnesses due to threats from terrorists in high-profile terrorism cases. In the absence of an investigating officer, the witnesses feel unprotected and often pressured to change their former stance on the issue.
Mr Khan said in case of the posting or transfer of an investigating officer, the prosecution agency made the replacement with a week or two but in high-profile cases it is often carried out in a matter of days. He said the absence of an investigating officer in this case might further delay the completion of the trial.
Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam, an advocate and former protocol officer of Ms Bhutto, said the delay in the murder case was deliberate. He said the authorities were also involved in the murder case and, therefore, they did want to see the completion of the trial. This is the reason the trial of the former prime minister could not be completed in over four and a half years, he added.
Aslam also said the investigating officer (IO) had presented all relevant documents and evidence in the court, and his absence might delay the trial.
Advocate Aslam, whose petition for a second FIR (first investigation report) of the murder case against Rehman Malik and Babar Awan is pending in the Supreme Court, said the investigation by the FIA, a subordinate department of the interior ministry, was an eyewash, adding the agency arrested citizens who only knew about the conspiracy rather than the mastermind and actual abettors.
Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry, a special prosecutor of the FIA, said there were various reasons for the delay in the assassination case.
According to him, five judges of the trial court have been changed since the case commenced in January 2008 in the Anti-Terrorism Court of Rawalpindi. After the transfer of ATC Judge, Shahid Rafique, Judge Chaudhry Habibur Rehman was appointed to the ATC last month, but the court could not take up the issue due to the lawyers’ strikes. Frivolous applications also caused the delay in the trial, he said.
It was the court’s decision whether or not to entertain the frivolous applications filed by defence counsel. In this particular case, these applications have been entertained leading to the delay.
Chaudhry also said the FIA had filed three applications with the ATC for conducting a day-to-day trial of the case, but was rejected by the court.
In his response to a question, he said the competent authority was aware of the fact, and the process for appointing a new investigating officer was underway.