SC reserves opinion on Bhutto execution reference

It is not the responsibility of the court to remove the stain of murder on the Bhutto family

By Sohail Khan
March 05, 2024
A general overview of the Supreme Court of Pakistan building. — Supreme Court website

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its opinion on the Presidential Reference seeking revisiting the execution of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB).


A nine-member larger bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa reserved the opinion on the Presidential Reference filed in 2011 seeking re-visiting the exaction of ZAB. Other members of the bench were Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Hassan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Musarat Hillai.

After Mian Raza Rabbani, counsel representing Sanam Bhutto, Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari and Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, daughter and granddaughters of ZAB, as well as Ahmed Raza Kasuir, son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmed Khan, concluded their arguments, the court reserved its opinion on the Presidential Reference.

“We will announce a short opinion; don’t know when, but after consultations with the learned members of the bench,” Chief Justice Isa remarked while concluding the proceedings, telecasted live on the apex court’s YouTube website.

Ahmed Raza Kasuri, the complainant and son of slain Nawab Muhammad Ahmed Khan, while arguing before the court termed the Presidential Reference non-maintainable, adding that if the court re-opened the already decided matter through the presidential reference, it would open a floodgate to tsunami of cases.

“Neither there is any public importance involved in this reference nor there is any question of law,” Kasuir submitted, adding that the Constitution and law do not give the right to second review and the final decision could not be reviewed again through reference.

“It is not the responsibility of the court to remove the stain of murder on the Bhutto family,” Kasuir contended, adding that president Zardari was a party in the case and on his behalf, the court could not give an opinion on the reference.

Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan could not appear before the court due to official engagements, however, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Aamir Reman, while giving his position on the matter, said that the re-investigation of murder charge on ZAB was completely illegal and against the rules of the trial.

He submitted that there were violations, there was injustice. “It seems that there was government intervention at that time,” the AAG submitted.

Justice Mandokhail asked the AAG that he acknowledged the government’s interference and further asked as to what steps the government taking to stop such interference?

The AAG submitted that every investigation should be free from the interference of the prosecution. CJP Isa observed that governments keep coming and going. “Let us do our work and let others do their work.”

Justice Tariq Masood said that there was a violation of the rules in the trial, adding that the Supreme Court has decided that first the complaint would be processed. Justice Rizvi raised questions on the trial of the murder case in the high court and observed that what was the justification for forming a five-member bench?

Mian Raza Rabbani, while arguing before the court, cited the interviews of Justice (retd) Naseem Hasan Shah, Justice (retd) Darab Patel, while mention Hamid Khan’s book, New York Times article, former chief justice Yakub Ali Khan.

He contended that ZAB’s trial was non-transparent. The judge was under the supervision of martial law and the verdict was given according to the wishes of the former dictator.

Rabbani said that when Bhutto’s trial was in process, at that time, the Supreme Court and the high courts were not constitutional courts, martial law was enforced in the country, the Constitution and the fundamental rights of the people were suspended, the constitutional powers of the Supreme Court had ended, while the judiciary was not independent but was running under martial law.

He submitted that when the then chief justice Yaqub Ali Khan approved the petition against martial law for hearing, his term was reduced and he was removed. Justice Isa observed that Justice Shafiur Rehman’s report in the matter had come before the implementation of martial law, while the complainant himself had joined the People’s Party.

He asked Rabbani as to whether the Supreme Court could give an opinion regarding the final decision of the court in the advisory jurisdiction. Raza Rabbani replied that the court could do that, adding that the Supreme Court could also use Article 187 to deliver complete justice.

Justice Afridi asked Rabbani to give the details of the points related to bias which the high court and the Supreme Court had not reviewed in writing. During the hearing, Chief Justice Isa asked the AAG that they had asked the government for some details about Masood Mahmood, the one who was approver in Bhutto’s case.

The AAG replied that three ministries were working on it, and the record was awaited, adding that at that time the record was not digitised, so Masood Mahmood’s records about foreign travel will have to be found and extracted.

Rabbani told the court that General Zia’s bias was also there, adding that six cases were registered from 1972 to 1976 regarding attacks on Ahmed Raza Kasuri; however, ZAB was not nominated in any FIR.

Rabbani further submitted that transparent trial and due process were not followed in Bhutto’s trial, adding that the execution of ZAB was made on the wishes of the military dictator. During the course of his arguments, Ahmed Raza Kasuri told the court that when a case of murder was filed against ZAB, he filed a request to transfer the case from the sessions court to the high court because it was a high-profile case.

The chief justice, however, observed that the murder happened in 1974, so why did he take so much time? On this, Kasuri said that the case was closed earlier, adding that at that time ZAB was the prime minister. The situation was like this, he was powerful, and the case was closed on the report of IG Rao Rashid, who later became the secretary general of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Justice Yahya Afridi asked Kasuri as to what was his opinion on the question of bias of the judges. Kasuri said that blame of bias was only on one judge, Justice Mushataq Hussain, while the trial was conducted by a five-member bench and the verdict was written by Justice Sheikh Aftab Hussain.

Justice Afridi again inquired as what was his opinion on the Supreme Court judge’s revelations about the Bhutto case? Kasuri replied: “Let’s assume Justice Anwarul Haq gave the decision on the wishes of Ziaul Haq but how it is possible when the PCO was issued, Anwar-ul-Haq refused to take the oath.”

He counted that the judge who gave the verdict against ZAB went home refusing to take the oath under the PCO, but the one who acquitted Bhutto, he became the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Justice Tariq Masood asked that if ZAB was not nominated in the murder. Kasuri said that FIR against a ruler is not an easy task, adding that despite the fact that having a government in Punjab, Imran Khan could not file an FIR against those responsible for the attack on him.

“Decisions are made according to the will of the rulers, and even today nobody could allot electoral symbol to anyone,” Kasuri contended. Later, the court reserved its opinion.

Asim Yasin adds: Meanwhile, at a press talk along with PPP Information Secretary Faisal Karim Kundi on the conclusion of SC proceedings, PPP Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman said Shaheed ZAB’s murder trial stood out in the annals of Pakistan’s history due to its unique combination of procedural irregularities, bias and miscarriage of justice.

“A just decision would signify a turning point, acknowledging and rectifying past miscarriages of justice linked to Bhutto’s murder, which has significantly impacted the course of Pakistan’s political history,” she said.

Sherry said her party was eagerly anticipating a correction of history, adding that while history could not be reversed, it could still be corrected. She said the mishandling of procedures, visible bias among judges and subsequent judicial changes had cast a shadow over Bhutto’s murder trial, suggesting that a conspiracy was hatched against the PPP founder.

“In our pursuit of justice, we hope for a decision from the court that serves as a powerful testament to the strength and fairness of our justice system. History cannot be reversed, but it can be corrected,” she said.

In response to a question, she said: “We look ahead to the presidential election, with provinces poised to actively contribute to governance, a unique opportunity presents itself to liberate Pakistan from past challenges and cultivate a political landscape characterised by maturity and inclusivity.”