14 years on, no headway in Karsaz blasts probe

Published October 18, 2021
PPP activists hold a vigil at the site of the 2007 Karsaz blasts. — PPI/File
PPP activists hold a vigil at the site of the 2007 Karsaz blasts. — PPI/File

KARACHI: Police and allied agencies are still clueless about the perpetrators of the twin bomb attacks on the homecoming procession of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto despite the passage of 14 years.

Around 200 people were killed and more than 500 others wounded when two blasts in quick succession ripped through the procession on Oct 18, 2007.

Three inquiry committees have been constituted since 2008 to trace the mastermind, handlers and executors of the attack, but to no avail.

After the devastating blasts, the then provincial government, led by 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 statements of around 40 witnesses.

However, Ms Bhutto was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. His party, however, formed government at the centre and in Sindh after the 2008 general election.

And on April 6, 2008 Dr Zulfikar Mirza, who was the chief security adviser to Ms Bhutto, had 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 say the proceedings of the Karsaz tribunal had 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 antiterrorism court and 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 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.

However, the court released him around 10 days after his remand since a police officer, DSP Nawaz Ranjha, who was later gunned down, 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 to track down the culprits and bring them to justice.

On the fourth anniversary of the Karsaz bombing, Dr Mirza made a startling disclosure claiming that he was stopped from proceeding with the inquiry after then president Asif Ali Zardari was 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.

In 2012, then Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said that the provincial government had constituted another committee headed by a DIG to inquire into the Karsaz tragedy. But there was no outcome to those inquires either.

Key witnesses killed Two key witnesses in the case — Khalid Shahenshah and Bilal Shaikh — both senior security officers at Bilawal House, who had accompanied Ms Bhutto at Karsaz, have been killed in separate incidents of alleged targeted killing.

Shahenshah, 45, a personal guard of Ms Bhutto and said to be a key witness to her assassination, was killed by unknown assailants riding a motorcycle outside his Clifton residence on July 22, 2008.

Later, Shaikh, who accompanied Benazir at Karsaz to Bilawal House, was killed in a suicide attack in Karachi’s Jamshed Quarters in July 2013.

However, an antiterrorism court acquitted Shahid Bikik, an alleged gangster operating in Lyari with other suspects, in Shaikh’s murder case.

No headway in reinvestigation On Oct 18, 2017, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had announced that a five-member inquiry committee headed by Counter-Terrorism Department chief Sanaullah Abbasi was set up to reinvestigate the twin blast case.

The first FIR in the case was registered at the Bahadurabad police station on behalf of the state. However, the PPP moved court for the registration of a second FIR and in November 2007 a sessions court asked the police to lodge another case. But the then provincial government of Dr Arbab Rahim 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 a second FIR in which Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, retired Lt Gen Hameed Gul and retired brigadier Ejaz Hussain Shah were named as suspects. However, the investigating agencies found no evidence against them.

Besides Qari Saifullah, the first IO of the case, DSP Ranjha, had also interrogated at least 10 suspects belonging to the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Mohammed, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Afghan Taliban. But police could not reach a conclusion regarding the involvement of any militant group.

Former SP Niaz Khoso, who was then supervising the investigation, became the second IO of the case after the assassination of DSP Ranjha.

During an interview in 2017, former SP Khoso had told Dawn that Ms Bhutto had said that she had sent a letter to the president naming Pervaiz Elahi and two others as suspects but Gen Pervez Musharraf did not respond to the police.

SP Khoso said that they had also questioned the accused persons arrested in Ms Bhutto’s assassination case in Rawalpindi regarding their alleged involvement in the Karsaz bombing, but could not find anything against them. After his retirement in 2014, the investigation of the case was transferred to the CTD.

When contacted, Sindh’s prosecutor general Faiz Shah failed to say anything about the progress in the case based on the second FIR.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2021

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