RAWALPINDI: Before the excitement over the new cabinet had died down, Islamabad was abuzz with the decision of the anti-terrorism court on Saturday to issue non-bailable arrest warrants for former president Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case. The decision came after investigators at a recent hearing had included Gen Musharraf in the list of the accused, a decision that they appeared to regret on Saturday if their statements in the court are to be believed.
Special Judge of ATC-III, Rana Nisar Ahmed, directed the head of the joint investigation team of the Federal Investigation Agency, which is reinvestigating the case, to arrest the former president and produce him in court on Feb 19, the next date of hearing.
In doing so, the trial judge, during the proceedings in Adiala jail, ignored a request by FIA Assistant Director Asghar Jatoi to defer the proceedings against Gen Musharraf.
Mr Jatoi’s volte face took everyone by surprise and drew a reprimand from the judge for deviating from what the JIT had asked for in its investigation report submitted on Feb 7.
As if to compound the confusion, Mr Jatoi was not supported by special public prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, who stuck to the line the government had taken earlier of asking for the warrants. This exposed a lack of coordination in the government ranks.
Dawn has learnt that Saturday’s proceedings might lead to Mr Ali’s removal from the case.
On Feb 7, the investigation team had asked the court to issue warrants for the arrest of the former president as despite repeated attempts, the FIA had not been able to contact Gen Musharraf for questioning him about his alleged role in the conspiracy to kill the former prime minister.
According to the investigation report, a copy of which is available with Dawn, the investigators have accused the former president of not providing proper security to Benazir Bhutto as was ensured for other former prime ministers Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, as he (Musharraf) wanted to get rid of Ms Bhutto.
The court also distributed copies of charge sheets among the seven arrested accused _ former Rawalpindi CPO Saud Aziz, former SP Khurram Shahzad, Aitzaz Shah a minor, Sher Zaman, Abdul Rasheed, Hasnain Gul and Rafaqat Hussain. The accused are likely to be indicted on the next date of hearing.
REACTION: The reaction from the other side was immediate. Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesperson for Pervez Musharraf, termed the criminal proceedings against the former president one-sided.
The investigation report submitted by the FIA against Musharraf in the court was not based on solid evidences, the press release contended, adding that it relied on mere speculations and conjunctures.
The barrister did not just reserve his criticism for the FIA, but also accused the court of ignoring shortcomings in the FIA report and issuing the arrest warrants. Had the court noticed weaknesses, the arrest warrants could not have been issued, Barrister Saif argued.
The court’s decision also provided an opportunity to the new federal minister for information and broadcasting, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, to give her first political statement after having taken oath. She hinted that the government may ask Interpol to bring back Musharraf.
“The government will contact Interpol to bring back former President Pervez Musharraf if the court directed it to do so in the BB assassination case,” she stated while talking to newsmen here at Benazir Bhutto Memorial, Liaquat Bagh.
In support of its accusations against Musharraf, the JIT in its report has alleged that the former president had directed Brig (retired) Javaid Iqbal Cheema, then spokesperson for the interior ministry, to hold a press conference on Dec 28, 2007, within 24 hours of the tragic incident.
“The premature conference was arranged to influence the investigations in the case as Punjab government set up an investigation team on Dec 31, but Brig Cheema disclosed on Dec 28 that Taliban had killed Benazir,” the JIT had noted in its report.
It further added that Musharraf had also threatened Ms Bhutto and had quoted Ron Suskind, a US journalist who was told by Bhutto that Musharraf could kill her. She told Suskind that Musharraf said to her: “You should understand something; your security is based on the state of our relationship.”
“The actual attack was carried out by terrorists based in Waziristan whereas former president Musharraf and the two accused police officer have aided and abetted the terrorist through their series of criminal activities,” the FIA said in its report.