KARACHI: With the Pakistan Peoples Party set to stage a huge rally to mark on Saturday the seventh anniversary of Karsaz blasts, police and allied agencies are still clueless about the perpetrators of the bomb attacks on the homecoming procession of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto apparently due to a lack of political will, it emerged on Friday.
Around 200 people were killed and dozens others wounded when two blasts in quick succession ripped through the procession on Oct 18, 2007.
After ending her self-imposed exile, the former prime minister landed at Karachi airport on Oct 18, 2007 where she was received by a large number of party workers and supporters. When the procession reached the Karsaz area at night, two suicide bombers blew themselves up. Ms Bhutto survived the attack. She was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack on Dec 27, 2007 in Rawalpindi following her address to a public rally.
At that time, the Sindh government, led by then chief minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, had set up an inquiry tribunal to investigate the twin blasts. The tribunal, headed by retired Justice Dr Ghous Mohammad, started proceedings and recorded the statements of around 40 witnesses.
However, the PPP boycotted the tribunal and refused to recognise it. In fact, it filed a petition in the Sindh High Court against it.
The terms of reference of the tribunal were to probe and ascertain the circumstances and causes leading to the twin blasts, to examine the security arrangements made by the administration and organisers, to find out if there was negligence on the part of the law enforcement agencies as well as organisers of the rally, to fix responsibility on the persons/groups involved in the incident and to suggest effective measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in future.
The PPP came to power following the Feb 18, 2008 general elections and in April, on the order of then home minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza, the home department disbanded the tribunal.
On April 6, 2008 Dr Mirza, who was the chief security adviser to Ms Bhutto, told reporters that the Sindh government would set up a new tribunal to probe the Karsaz blasts since his party had no trust in the proceedings of the tribunal formed by the previous government.
However, despite being in power in the province since 2008 the PPP government has not set up a tribunal to inquire into the tragedy. Besides Sindh, the PPP also enjoyed power at the centre until 2013, but nobody has so far been arrested or produced in court in the Karsaz bombing case.
Legal experts believe that the proceedings of the Karsaz tribunal highlighted several flaws in the security arrangements for Ms Bhutto’s homecoming procession. The flaws were on the part of both the law enforcement agencies and the organisers, and the PPP apparently disbanded the tribunal — and did not establish another one — as it did not want to accept the responsibility of any security lapse on its part, they add.
In March 2008, the police produced in court Qari Saifullah Akhtar, an alleged Al Qaeda militant, but he was released for want of evidence.
Qari Akhtar was brought before the administrative judge of the anti-terrorism court and he was remanded in police custody for allegedly masterminding the twin blasts.
The police submitted that the late Ms Bhutto in her last book — Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West — wrote that Qari Akhtar had hatched a conspiracy in 1995 against her. In the book, she had also named him for being involved in the attacks on her homecoming procession in October in Karachi and described him as one of the militants who was after her life.
He reportedly had links with a militant training camp in Afghanistan and with a number of similar attacks. He was stated to be the chief of Harkat Jihad al-Islami, a banned outfit, and also belonged to a group busted by the military intelligence. The group included four military officers who were accused of plotting to take over the army’s headquarters by killing top military commanders and later ousting Ms Bhutto’s government. They were detained at Attock Fort, but Qari Saifullah was released later.
The court released him around 10 days after his remand since the police submitted that no incriminating evidence had been found to link him with the blasts. The arrest and production of the alleged militant was made before the PPP came into power and since then there has hardly been any effort made to track down the culprits and bring them to justice.
In June 2008, then Sindh police chief Dr Shoaib Suddle constituted an inquiry committee to probe the Oct 18 Karsaz blasts and a few years later Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said that the provincial government had constituted another committee, headed by a deputy inspector general of police, to inquire into the Karsaz tragedy. But there has been no outcome of these inquires.
On the fourth anniversary of the Karsaz bombing, Dr Mirza made a startling disclosure claiming that he was stopped to proceed with the inquiry initiated into the twin blasts after president Asif Ali Zardari had been given a briefing. Dr Mirza said that he was asked not to proceed with the probe when president Zardari had been briefed that this inquiry could adversely affect the investigation of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
A case (FIR 183/07) was registered at the Bahadurabad police station under Sections 302 (premeditated murder), 324 (attempted murder), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs50), 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 3/4 of the Explosive Substances Act read with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 on behalf of the state.
The PPP moved the court for the registration of a second FIR and in November 2007 a sessions court asked the police to lodge another FIR. But the provincial government challenged the order in the high court. After forming a government in Sindh, the PPP withdrew the state’s appeal against the sessions court’s order and lodged the second FIR in which Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, retired Lt Gen Hameed Gul and retired Brigadier Ejaz Hussain Shah were named as suspects since Ms Bhutto had blamed them. However, the investigating agencies cleared them.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2014