INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO. 403
As Pakistan observed on June 21 the 55th birth anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at Rawalpindi on December 27,2007, there has been an intriguing reluctance on the part of the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to pursue the investigation into her assassination vigorously and to prosecute those already arrested.
2.While Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the former Amir of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), who had been named by her as a principal suspect in the failed attempt to kill her at Karachi on October 18,2007, has been quietly released after being in police custody for some time, the police investigation into her assassination on December 27,2007, has been discontinued. While legal proceedings have been delayed against those who have already been arrested and who have confessed about their role in the assassination, no action to arrest others, who had been declared as proclaimed offenders in the case by a court, has been taken.
3. Among those declared as proclaimed offenders in the case is Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Instead of taking action to have him arrested and prosecuted, the Government has been negotiating a peace deal with him under which in return for his releasing Pakistani security forces personnel in the custody of the TTP and calling off all acts of suicide terrorism, the Government has offered to withdraw the Army from South Waziristan and make the Frontier Corps, a para-military force consisting largely of local Pashtun tribals, many of them sympathetic to the Taliban,responsible for internal security in South Waziristan.
4. The Government was embarrassed when US spokesmen repeatedly expressed their surprise over the Pakistani Government holding talks with the principal suspect in the assassination of Benazir and when Baitullah addressed a press conference in which he said that any peace deal will apply only to Pakistani territory and not to the operations of his men in the Afghan territory against the NATO forces and the Afghan National Army. Following these developments, the Govt. has suspended the peace talks with him, but has not asked the security forces to go after him in order to arrest him in the Benazir Bhutto case.
5. The case against those already arrested is being adjourned frequently under some pretext or the other on petitions filed by the defence counsels without the Government opposing these adjournments, which are against the provisions of the Anti-Terrroism Act, which clearly stipulate that the legal proceedings in terrorism-related cases should be held on a day-to-day basis without adjournments.
6. Anti Terrorism Court (ATC) No I of Rawalpindi once again adjourned on June 21,2008, the hearing into the Benazir murder case till July 14, 2008.
7.Critics of Asif Ali Zardari and Rehman Mallick, his confidante, who is the Advisor to the Ministry of the Interior with the status of a Cabinet Minister, have been alleging that neither of them seems to be interested in pursuing the case in order to bring to justice those responsible for her assassination. Rehman Mallick was a senior official of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) during the second tenure of Benazir as the Prime Minister (1993-96) and became a close confidante of Zardari. When former President Farooq Leghari dismissed her in 1996, he also suspended Rehman Mallick and ordered an investigation into charges of corruption against him. He escaped to the UK, from where he was co-ordinating the personal security of Benazir during her travels while she was in political exile.When she returned to Pakistan on October 18,2007, he returned before her and was looking after her physical security. There was considerable criticism of his absence from the vicinity of Benazir on December 27,2007, when she was assassinated.
8. Despite his alleged failure to protect her, he continues to enjoy the trust of Zardari who got him appointed as the Advisor to the Ministry of the Interior.
9.Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir, was killed in a police encounter outside his Karachi residence in September,1996, after he had returned to Karachi from a visit to Islamabad where he allegedly had a quarrel with Zardari, who reportedly opposed his demand that he should be designated as the Vice-Chairman of the PPP. The failure of the Karachi Police to vigorously pursue the investigation was one of the reasons used by Farooq Leghari to dismiss Benazir shortly after the murder of her brother. Zardari was among those arrested and prosecuted by the police after her dismissal in connection with the murder of her brother. He was got discharged honourably from the case by the PPP-led coalition after it assumed office in the last week of March,2008.
10. Till today, the full facts relating to the murder of Murtaza and the identities of those responsible are not known to the public. The whole case has been covered up. There seems to be a similar attempt to cover up the case relating to the the assassination of Benazir despite the Government ostensibly moving the UN for an international investigation under the supervision of the UN Security Council. After her assassination, President Pervez Musharraf, in response to allegations of a cover-up by PPP leaders including Zardari, had requested the British Government to depute a team from the Scotland Yard to help in the forensic investigation. A team visited Pakistan and did a thorough forensic investigation. No action has been taken by the Government to follow up on their forensic investigation either. ( 22-6-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )