In a move timed to bewilder many observers, President Asif Ali Zardari has decided to use presidential rights bestowed on him by the Constitution under Article 186 to move before the Supreme Court a review petition seeking a re-examination of the murder trial of his late father-in-law and PPP founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. While the verdict that led to the country’s first elected prime minister being taken to the gallows remains shrouded in controversy, ZAB was hanged 32 years ago. The man seen as the chief architect of his overthrow and execution, General Ziaul Haq is also dead. Although there have been many voices over the years calling for the re-opening of one of the most unsavoury chapters from our unpleasant history, doing so at this juncture does not make obvious sense, unless the purpose is to distract attention from far more relevant ongoing issues or – as some commentators have suggested – embarrass the Supreme Court by raising before it all kinds of awkward issues. This appears to be the thinking behind the move which has been finalised after deliberations between the president and his aides.
Many legal questions arise. There seems to be a lack of consensus among former judges as to whether a review can be sought in a murder case after all this time. At a more practical level, people ask why the president has suddenly acquired so keen an interest in the case, especially since far more pressing matters remain unresolved. We still have little idea for instance, as to who killed ZAB’s daughter. The suspicion that this is the first step inf a political game of some kind makes the whole thing seem especially sinister. Who knows what is being planned, what plots are being hatched, and why.