RAWALPINDI, Aug 20: Former military ruler retired General Pervez Musharraf was indicted over the murder of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto on Tuesday, five years after the case was opened in an anti-terrorism court.
This is the second case in which Gen Musharraf has been formally charge-sheeted since he returned to the country in March.
On June 15, the Islamabad ATC had charged him with the 2007 detention of over 60 judges. Although the Benazir murder trial had progressed in the past in the absence of Gen Musharraf, an accused, now it will proceed from scratch once again.
The ATC, presided over by Judge Chaudhry Habibur Rehman, charged Gen Musharraf, as well as the other accused, under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) related to murder, hatching conspiracy and abetment.
Among the other accused are two retired police officers — then Rawalpindi CPO Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shehzad. Five alleged terrorists of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — Mohammad Rafaqat, Hasnain Gul, Sher Zaman, Aitzaz Shah and Rasheed Ahmed — have also been indicted in the case.
The accused, including Gen Musharraf, pleaded not guilty.
DELAY FEARED: Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry, the Federal Investigation Agency’s Special Prosecutor, said the indictment of all the accused at this stage would further prolong the case. “The prosecution has produced 18, out of over 50 witnesses, so far for recording their statements and their cross-examination by the defence counsel. After the indictment, the prosecution has to recall all the witnesses.
“Under the Criminal Procedure Code, after a proclaimed offender joins the investigation the entire exercise of submission of challan, indictment and summoning of all the witnesses has to be repeated regardless of whether they have been examined earlier or not,” he explained.
According to him, after the surrender of Gen Musharraf, the prosecution prepared a fresh challan and the court has indicted all the accused. “The ATC earlier was conducting the trial of six accused after their indictment in 2011.”
He said: “The delay could have been avoided if the ATC had separately charged and tried Gen Musharraf.”
Ilyas Siddiqui, Pervez Musharraf’s counsel, said: “There is not even an iota of truth in the challan against Gen Musharraf and it will be very difficult for the prosecution to prove the allegations.”
He said the only evidence against his client was a statement of US lobbyist Mark Siegel, who needed to be cross-examined by the defence counsel.
A legal expert said the prosecution had to corroborate the statement of Mr Siegel with the available evidence.
CHARGESHEET: The charge sheet issued against Gen Musharraf and the other accused says: “During the month of November 2007 and near about, you Mohammad Rafaqat Hussain, Hasnain Gul, Sher Zaman and Rashid Ahmed, Pervez Musharraf, along with your co-accused Aitzaz Shah, Abadur Rehman, Abdullah, Faiz Mohammad, Baitullah Mehsud, Ikramullah and Nadir Khan (proclaimed offenders) and Nasrullah Saeed alias Bilal (suicide bomber) entered into an agreement with one another and conspired for committing Qatl-i-Amad (intentional murder) of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto… at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, on Dec 27, 2007, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 120-B, Pakistan Penal Code.”
They have been charged with murdering 23 people who died on the spot and injuring 71 others who were present at a public gathering at Liaquat Bagh on the fateful day.
The fourth charge is that of hatching a conspiracy and abetting the suicide bomber.
According to the fifth charge, the accused “intentionally created a sense of fear and insecurity among the people of Rawalpindi and the entire country”.
The sixth charge is that the “illegal agreement and conspiracy by causing a suicidal explosion intentionally caused wrongful loss and damaged and destroyed vehicles valuing millions of rupees”.
The seventh offence is related to hiding from police officials a number of facts related to the murder.
The eighth offence mentioned in the chargesheet is about training for the use of explosive material which the accused got in an illegal manner.
The ninth charge is against former city police officer Saud Aziz. It reads: “You were under legal obligation to provide adequate security to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto commensurate to threat to her life when she came in Rawalpindi on Dec 27, 2007, and addressed the public gathering at Liaquat Bagh… but you with ulterior motives, inclusion and conspiracy with your co-accused did not provide adequate security” to her.
The former CPO was also charged with not conducting a post-mortem of Ms Bhutto to ascertain the cause of death.
The 10th charge is against the then SP of Rawal Town, Khurram Shehzad, for washing the crime scene which resulted in “destruction of vital evidence”.
The 11th charge says: “You Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, remained in uniform for eight years and you exercised total and absolute powers under a unique and extra-constitutional office of the chief executive of the country and you even on the request of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto did not provide security to the level of threat to her life, but at the same time you ordered to provide VVIP security to two former prime ministers, namely Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and you denied the same to Benazir Bhutto.”
APML: Following the indictment, Dr Mohammad Amjad, a leader of Gen Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, accused the PML-N government of influencing the investigation.
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, he said Gen Musharraf had initially been accused of providing inadequate security to Ms Bhutto, but the FIA’s challan on the basis of which he had been indicted told a different story.
The FIA, in its seventh challan submitted six years after the assassination, had levelled allegations against Gen Musharraf of hatching conspiracy, planning and execution of the attack on Ms Bhutto, he said.
The Scotland Yard investigation had not mentioned Gen Musharraf’s role in the assassination and only a UN commission in its report had identified inadequate security as one of the causes of the murder, Dr Amjad added.
The APML leader also raised objection over an interpretation by the FIA of the statement of Mr Siegel and an email Ms Bhutto had sent to him.
He pointed out that in the email Ms Bhutto had also nominated PML-Q leader Pervaiz Elahi, former Inter-Services Intelligence director general Hameed Gul and former Intelligence Bureau director general Ejaz Shah, but the FIA had used the statement against Gen Musharraf, while naming the other three as witnesses in the murder case.