RAWALPINDI: Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) Rawalpindi Judge Chaudhry Habibur Rehman on Tuesday indicted former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in the Benazir Bhutto murder case.
The court also indicted six others — former City Police Officer (CPO) Saud Aziz, former SP Potohar Khurram Shahzad, Rafaqat Hussain, Hasnain Gul, Sher Zaman, and Abdul Rashid Turabi.
The court did not indict Syed Aitzaz Shah because he is a juvenile. Instead, the court is holding a separate trial of Shah. The court ordered that witnesses be presented in the next hearing, fixed for August 27.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) handed over an eight-page charge sheet to Musharraf on three charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder. The charge sheet was also read out to him in the courtroom.
Pervez Musharraf denied all charges and said that he was innocent and some forces were taking political revenge from him. “I will face all difficulties to prove myself innocent in the Benazir murder case,” he said.
“He should be tried,” FIA Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Muhammad Azhar told reporters after a brief hearing.“All the cases against Musharraf are fabricated. He has denied all the charges,” said Afshan Adil, Musharraf’s lawyer.
A formal trial could begin any time. If convicted, Musharraf could face a maximum sentence of death or life imprisonment, a prosecution lawyer said.Meanwhile, the ATC accepted a petition of the former president, seeking exemption to appear in person in the case due to security threats. The FIA special prosecutor strongly opposed the plea and said that permanent exemption is not allowed to anybody.
“Permanent exemption is allowed only to those who go to a foreign country for employment or treatment, he said. But the court accepted Musharraf’s application.
General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was brought to the ATC from the sub-jail in Chak Shahzad under extremely stiff security arrangements. Army and police commandos and special branch officials cordoned off the whole area when the former militarynominated the former president as the main accused in the case. The FIA submitted challan of the case in ATC Rawalpindi, in which probing agency listed former military ruler as the main accused, accusing him of hatching conspiracy against Benazir Bhutto that led to her killing.
The challan also carried statement of Pervez Musharraf. In his statement, the former president said he did not entertain a request of Benazir Bhutto for providing security, as being president, he was not responsible for looking after security-related issues, rather it was the domain of the Interior Ministry. However, contrary to Musharraf’s claim, the then interior secretary Kamal Shah, said in his statement to the FIA that he requested Musharraf for providing security cover to Benazir Bhutto, but the president did not pass any direction in that regard. He said he forwarded a request to Musharraf for providing security to three former prime ministers, including Benazir Bhutto, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Shaukat Aziz. To this, Musharraf gave approval for providing security to Shujaat and Shaukat Aziz, but did not respond to the request regarding BB’s security. In the challan sheet, FIA’s investigators mentioned that Muhsarraf could not give any satisfactory answers when he was questioned about his meeting with Benazir in Dubai, in which he reportedly told her that her security was linked with her relationship with him. In the charge sheet, the FIA accused the former president of hatching conspiracy against Benazir, which led to her killing. Besides having Musharraf and Kamal Shah’s statement, the four-page report also carries account of four witnesses, including two American journalists, and Benazir Bhutto’s own statement.
INP adds: It was the first time that any of the four generals who have ruled Pakistan have been indicted.There are three witnesses in the case, including US journalist Mark Siegel who was a close friend of slain Benazir Bhutto.
There had been some doubt whether police would produce Musharraf in the court due to death threats by Tehreek-e-Taliban. The Taliban had said in recent weeks that they would send suicide bombers to kill Pervez Musharraf.
The expected indictment was temporarily postponed at an August 6 hearing because police did not take Musharraf to court due to a specific threat.
AFP adds: It is the first time a head of Pakistan’s army has been charged with a crime, challenging beliefs that the military is immune from prosecution and threatening to fan tensions with civilian institutions.
While murder will be difficult to prove, it may embolden efforts to try Musharraf for treason for seizing power in 1999 and for violating the Constitution by sacking judges and imposing emergency rule in 2007. Treason can carry the death penalty.
The indictment has not silenced speculation about the possibility of a behind-the-scenes deal that could allow Musharraf to leave Pakistan without going to jail.