ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party has expressed serious reservations over reports that Taliban during their talks with the US had sought custody of two of the five accused who were acquitted by an Anti-Terrorism Court in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case two years ago.

The accused are still in jail because of their involvement in some other cases.

The PPP is also waiting for commencement of hearing on three petitions filed in 2017 in the Islamabad High Court seeking capital punishment against former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, two senior police officials, and the five accused acquitted in the case.

“We have credible information that six months ago Taliban, during their talks with the US in Pakistan, demanded custody of Aitezaz Shah and Hasnain Gul who are still in prison in connection with other cases,” said PPP leader Latif Khosa, who has been pursuing the assassination case.

He said both Shah and Gul were alleged facilitators of the attackers as the assailants stayed in their house in Rawalpindi. They visited the venue of the crime along with the attackers a day before the assassination.

Mr Khosa said the Taliban had not submitted any written request to the PTI government for release and custody of Shah and Gul, but the militant group expressed this desire during a meeting with Pakistani officials.

“We did not take up the matter with the government as we got to know that it [the government] was ready to hand over both persons to the Taliban,” he said.

He said that acquittal of the accused in the case was quite shocking for him and the party as they had confessed their crime in court and clothes, shoes and body parts of the attackers were recovered from their house.

He said one of the appeals was against the ATC’s verdict which separated Gen Musharraf from the case because he was not available in the country. “Our contention is that Gen Musharraf is deliberately and mischievously absconding and according to Section 19 of Anti-Terrorism Act, if an accused is deliberately evading appearance before court then the court can decide the case in absentia,” he added.

Mr Khosa said as many as 63 witnesses were examined in the case and foreign journalist Mark Seigal was cross-examined for two consecutive days.

Another PPP leader and PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said: “There are unconfirmed reports that the Taliban in their ongoing negotiations with the US via Pakistan had demanded release of both Shah and Gul. We are trying to confirm these reports and if the reports turn out to be true, it would reveal some hitherto unknown aspects of the case.”

Mr Babar said that if Taliban had indeed demanded release of Shah and Gul, it would confirm the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s involvement in the assassination.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2019