September 2, 2017 7:59:25 am
It took almost ten years for a Pakistani anti-terror court to announce its verdict in the Benazir Bhutto murder case. The Rawalpindi judge Muhammad Asghar Khan acquitted five accused Taliban terrorists, awarded 17-years imprisonment each to two senior police officials for abetting the crime and declared former military dictator Pervez Musharraf absconder.
There is deep disappointment among the people after this controversial verdict. They believe Benazir Bhutto has been murdered again. It was expected that the court would not be able to convict Musharraf in absentia and the five main accused released. But I didn’t think that the court would imprison Ex-DIG Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shehzad; I thought they would be saved by some “powerful people.” But the court has rejected Musharraf’s conspiracy theory and actually reversed it by implicating two police officials.
Does this mean that Musharraf is part of the crime? Even as the former dictator enjoys life in London, Benazir Bhutto has returned as a bad nightmare for the former dictator.
I still remember my last meeting with Benazir Bhutto just a few days before her assassination in 2007. She invited me for breakfast at her residence in Islamabad. The breakfast table was laid outside her living area in the garage. Having known her since 1987 I was sure she wanted to say something very important to me and was trying to avoid our conversation from being bugged; hence the outdoors breakfast.
She received me with a smile on her face but looked sad and disturbed. She had survived a suicide attack only two months before in Karachi, on October 18th 2007 when she had returned from exile, in a bomb attack which claimed 180 people. I told her I wasn’t carrying my mobile phone with me. She sent hers inside the house as well.
She started her conversation by asking me about my family and then said, “I must confess you were right about my dialogue with Musharraf. It was just a trap. Musharraf only wanted to use me for prolonging his power. He was not serious about restoring democracy. Now this dialogue is over.”
She ordered orange juice for me and lemon and honey tea for herself. She began to eat walnuts with lemon and honey tea. She offered some walnuts to me and said “I am trying to reduce my weight with these, knowing that I may not live a long life”. I immediately responded, May God give you a long life. She expressed concerns about my security. She recalled my first kidnapping in 1990 when she was prime minister and I had filed a story saying that president Ghulam Ishaq Khan was planning to dismiss her.
She gave me some “security tips.” For example, “never discuss your travel plans on the phone,” or, “don’t go to public places all alone”. I started laughing and said “you need to be more careful than me, you just survived an assassination attempt”.
We toyed with the idea of breakfast. Fried eggs or omelette? Benazir didn’t want any, just brown bread with tea, but she ordered some fried eggs for me. When we had finished eating, she sent her staff away, and asked to be left alone.
She placed her glasses on her eyes and said, “Let me tell you today, clearly, that they have decided to kill me. They will kill me soon and they will put the responsibility on the Taliban or the Al Qaeda. But you can name Musharraf as my assassin if I am killed”.
I was stunned. I asked why “they” wanted to kill her. She said Musharraf had not wanted her to come back Pakistan before the elections. “I never listened to him. He threatened me on the telephone and said your security is based on the state of our relationship. I was conveyed messages by two foreign governments that I should not go to Pakistan, I will be killed there.”
Again, she said, “If I am killed, please name Musharraf as my assassin”. By now I was completely shattered. I told her that Musharraf had banned me from appearing on TV, but that I would definitely write what she had told me. Please be careful, I said, don’t give people another chance to attack you.
She got angry. “They want me to go back (to the west), but I wont leave, this is my country. I will die here”.
To cut short the details of this last meeting with Benazir Bhutto it was decided that she would write an email or letter to more than two people and mention Musharraf as her possible assassin. Benazir kept her word. She said she had already written one letter in October 2007 before coming to Pakistan in which she nominated some close associates of Musharraf as conspirators, including former DG ISI Hameed Gul. I told Benazir Bhutto that Hameed Gul was no more a close associate of Musharraf, that he started opposing him publically. She agreed and never mentioned his name in the last letter sent to some close friends.
The same afternoon she went to Lahore. She met some more journalist friends including my brother Amir Mir and told him the same thing, that he should name Musharraf as her assassin if she was killed. She was sure her days were numbered. She never allowed her husband and children to come back to Pakistan. They were living in Dubai at the time. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari was regularly in touch with me on phone. He was also concerned about his wife’s security.
Zardari once told me that he tried his best to stop her for returning to Pakistan and even begged her by touching her feet not to risk her life, but she never listened. She told him “I looked after the children in Dubai for many years when you were in jail, now its your turn. I am going back to Pakistan”. She even wrote her last will in her own handwriting before returning home.
Certainly, Benazir did her homework. She wrote to her trusted friend in the US, Mark Siegel, and told him that Gen. Pervez Musharraf would be her assassin. Mark Siegel was told to share the letter with BBC or CNN in case of another attack on her life. Mark Siegel shared that letter with Wolf Blitzer of CNN on December 27th 2007.Within few minutes of her assassination CNN informed the world that Benazir Bhutto had named Musharraf as her assassin.
Musharraf’s government, meanwhile, nominated Taliban terrorist Baitullah Mehsud as the mastermind behind her assassination, but he denied it. In fact, he sent a message to Benazir through a Senator from South Waziristan, Saleh Shah, that he was not planning any attack on her life. The Musharraf government claimed to arrest some boys who facilitated the suicide bomber on December 27th in Rawalpindi but in reality these boys were already in the custody of security agencies before the attack on Benazir Bhutto. The crime scene was washed immediately after the attack on the orders of two police officials. These officials got orders from a close subordinate of Musharraf. They never disclosed his name and faced harsh imprisonment in the end.
I fulfilled my promise too. I wrote about my last conversation with her after her assassination. When the ban was lifted from me and I returned to Geo Television in 2008 I made an investigative documentary on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto which was aired a few days before her first death anniversary. I highlighted Musharraf as the main accused. Unfortunately the People’s Party government never showed any seriousness about her murder investigation till August 2008 when Musharraf was forced to resign.
Musharraf quit, but not before he had been felicitated with a guard of honor in President House; meanwhile, the PPP Govt never tried to stop the main accused. Musharraf escaped from Pakistan very easily. The PPP government was left facing the pressure from the public and media to investigate the murder of its late chairperson.
Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in 2009. A UN Inquiry Commission approached me in 2010 for recording my statement, the only journalist to do so. The commission accused Musharraf of failing to provide adequate protection for Benazir Bhutto. It pointed a finger towards former DG military intelligence Nadeem Ejaz who ordered the police to wash the crime scene immediately. Musharraf was included as a suspect in that case in 2010.He was declared an absconder in 2011.He came back to Pakistan in March 2013 to participate in elections. He tried to hijack the MQM but failed. He appeared in court in the Benazir murder case once in April 2013 and the court gave him four days physical remand, but in the meanwhile prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar was mysteriously killed in Islamabad in May 2013 and Musharraf got bail from court.
Musharraf was allowed to leave Pakistan again in 2016 by the Nawaz Sharif government and the PPP remained silent. The anti-terror court summoned Musharraf many times to appear but he never appeared. After more than 300 hearings in 10 years the anti terrorist court released five suspects who were arrested by Musharraf government. Four governments and 8 judges have been changed in 10 years, but the truth is that the main accused, Musharraf, was only declared absconder because in Pakistani law courts cannot convict someone in absentia. Two police officials Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad have been each awarded 17 years jail because they were declared the main accused along with Musharraf by a Joint Investigation Team headed by Wajid Zia. The same Wajid Zia headed the JIT in the Panama case and wrote a report against Nawaz Sharif.
PPP leaders are today criticizing the court verdict but it’s no more a secret that the PPP never tried to prosecute Musharraf because it was more interested in completing its five-year term in power, by pleasing the powerful establishment which never wanted Musharraf’s prosecution. The PPP actually gave a clean chit to many suspects who were named by the UN Commission.
The PPP failed to complete the murder investigation and the people of Pakistan refused to give their vote to the PPP. Today, the PPP is trying to play the victim card by criticizing the court verdict. Benazir Bhutto is definitely a victim who never sought justice even ten years after her assassination, but the PPP leadership is not a victim. They played the role of collaborators by facilitating Musharraf to run away from this murder case again and again. Now the two accused police officers will challenge the verdict in high court and new hearings will start with some new facts.
The PPP will have another chance to follow the main suspect. Will they demand to arrest Musharraf through Interpol and produce him in a court of law. He is also required in a treason case. He may escape a final verdict from the court of law but he cannot escape it from the court of history. He is an assassin. He was not declared assassin by a court of law but Benazir Bhutto named him as his assassin. History will remember him as a killer of Benazir Bhutto and democracy.
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