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Shahbaz Bhatti`s murder Probe is more an enigma

January 13, 2012

It is significant that the request for warrants was sent by the interior ministry directly to the Interpol headquarters in Paris and not by the investigators through the local representative of the Interpol which is normal. - File photo


ISLAMABAD: Nearly one year on, the motive and people behind the murder of former minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti are still a mystery.

His was among the three high-profile murders in Islamabad in the year that shook not just Pakistan but the world.

A commission that probed the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad has just reported that 'belligerents' at home and abroad could have killed him, while the murderer of Governor Salman Taseer and his motive became known the day he was gunned down on January 4, 2011.

But in the case of Mr Bhatti, a Christian, confusion about who killed him and why stems from the contradictory statements of government officials. Islamabad police and its inspector general and interior minister have made differing statements about the identity of his 'killer(s)', some even contradicting themselves.

No wonder there are accusations of the investigation being shoddy and being hampered by vested interests.

In the period from his assassination on March 2 to August 2011, senior police officers insisted to the media that 'personal enmity' and 'business rivalry' lay behind his murder. In August, however, the police declared it was 'an act of terrorism' On August 23, 2011, the IGP informed the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was behind the murder. Not only he named Malik Abid and Ziaur Rehman as the murderers but said that investigators had obtained red warrants for their arrest from Interpol.

On December 25, 2011, Interior Minister Rehman Malik came up with another version: he alleged that the Sipah-iSahaba Pakistan (SSP) was behind Mr Bhatti's assassination.

Reportedly the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, the name SSP took after it was banned by the government, has denied the claim.

The minister also claimed that the assassins had been identified and had fled to the Middle East after committing the crime. He insisted that terrorists killed Mr Bhatti and that there was no family feud.But just three days after the minister's claims, Islamabad IGP announced that red warrants against the wanted killers had been obtained from Interpol the same statement that he had made to the Senate committee three months earlier and said a team would be sent to United Arab Emirates to arrest them.

Officers close to the investigation said that the red warrants of the accused were obtained in the third week of December and not in August when he gave that information to the Senate committee.

It is significant that the request for warrants was sent by the interior ministry directly to the Interpol headquarters in Paris and not by the investigators through the local representative of the Interpol which is normal.

Even more significant is that the two accused were neither identified by eye-witnesses nor nominated by Mr Bhatti's family. They were named by a Karachi-based clergyman.

This clergyman, being identified as X to protect him, claimed in his statement to the police that on learning of the minister's assassination, he acquired the contact number of a close aide of the minister and sent a text message to him saying he had information about the murderers.

In the subsequent exchange of messages X claimed the murderers flew out to Sri Lanka from Islamabad a few hours after committing the crime. That made the aide to fly him to Islamabad at his expense. Here X's story got weird as he claimed that while in Islamabad he got scared on seeing the police guarding the FIA Headquarters and surrendered himself to them.

Police said that in the interrogation that followed X said he was in deep financial crisis and cooked up the whole story in the hope that Mr Bhatti's family would pay him for the 'information' about the murderers.

His reported statement raises another enigma because it establishes him as a fraud and yet the police and the interior ministry continue to pursue the two men he named as murderers of Mr Bhatti. According to police sources the two, Malik Abid and Ziaur Rehman, belong to Faisalabad but run a travel agency in Dubai.

Meanwhile, SP Industrial Area Ishaq Warraich told Dawn that Interpol warrants of the accused are yet to reach him. A police team would be constituted after receiving the warrants to go to UAE and arrest the accused. No police officer was willing to speak on the contradictory claims made by their 'seniors' or specific details of the investigation.