Friday August 12, 2022

A true trail of Benazir’s assassination

September 07, 2017

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto fell victim to deep-rooted animosity of conservative right-wing forces in and outside the country against liberal PPP and its leadership. 

The coup d’état by Gen Zia put him at the helm of affairs and through his dictatorial regime he had the sole agenda of destroying the party and its leadership and his attempt of introduction of Islamic reforms in the country was basically to win over the support of religious parties against the PPP. 

The patronage of military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq helped the conservative right wing religious groups nourished, taste flavour of money and power thus penetrating in the society with a clear agenda of enforcing their brand of Islam. 

Gen Zia, through these religious groups demonised and discredited the leadership of the party by building and propagating a narrative that the PPP leadership is anti-Islam by describing its slogan “Roti, Kapra & Makan” as un-Islamic and pro-Western based on its ideology of empowerment of every citizen of Pakistan especially women. 

The religious fanatics were instigated against Benazir Bhutto with propagandas at all levels. I remember having investigated a murder attempt on Benazir when I was FIA director and during the course of investigation I found that one of the conspirators in his first attempt, on the life of Benazir in Karachi stated that the leadership of al-Qaeda was against Benazir Bhutto because; “she was a woman and she had no right to rule an Islamic country; she was a Shia and that she was pro-West”. Lately, one of the accused of October 27, 2007 incident had, once interviewed/interrogated him inside the jail by one of the members of the JIT, reiterated the same ideology vis-à-vis Benazir Bhutto justifying her assassination. 

This speaks voluminously as to how much the religious militants had been against the personality of Benazir Bhutto. I along with my team interrogated Yousaf Ramzi, who reinforced his statement and proudly stated that it is true that we wanted to eliminate BB. He made a bomb to blow her up in a flat near a lighthouse. It would be pertinent to mention that Benazir Bhutto Shaheed had been the continuous target of the terrorists prior to the last fateful incident. The series of attempts on her life are indicative of the fact that vested interests /al-Qaeda were bent upon eliminating her since her emergence on the horizon of politics of Pakistan. The summary of the earlier attempts is mentioned below to understand the mindset of the hostile elements and al-Qaeda and its associates. 

The first assassination attempt was carried out near Bilawal House in 1995. Fazlullah Hamdi at Abu Talha resident of Panjgur, Balochistan, was arrested by the then Frontier Police (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) for links with terrorists had disclosed that Yousaf Ramzi, Capt Abdul Hakim alias Majid and others had planned assassination of Benazir prior to 1993 elections. The planning to murder Benazir included planting a bomb in a gutter near Bilawal House. However, this could not be carried out as Yousaf Ramzi got injured at his flat in Karachi while making the bomb. Ramzi, consequently, remained under treatment in a hospital under fake name and got discharged before police could reach him. 

The second assassination attempt was in 1993. Subsequently, Abdul Shakoor, a staunch affiliate of Sipah-e-Sahaba, and a close associate of Yousaf Ramzi was arrested by Peshawar Police for carrying ammunition to Karachi by train confirmed about two assassination attempts conspired and planned by Yousaf Ramzi, Capt Abdul Hakim alias Majid and Munir Ibrahim including himself. According to Abdul Shakoor, Osama bin Laden had pumped a lot of money to religious parties in Pakistan for this purpose. Munir Ibrahim whereby was the paymaster on behalf of Osama bin Laden. 

Third assassination attempt was carried out on October 18, 2007 when Benazir arrived in Karachi from Dubai to lead the party in the coming general elections and was heading towards Mazar-e-Quaid, when two powerful bombs exploded in close proximity of her truck where I was present and barely survived but that burnt her hair and she also sustained burn injuries. It was another fresh attempt on her life but fortunately she remained safe but hundreds of her supporters gave their lives on October 18. The crime scene washed and FIR hardily registered not by the victim but the state. Basic right of registration of FIR was denied to Benazir. 

This attempt was in furtherance of a threat by Baitullah Mehsud, when he had warned that she would be welcomed with garland of bombs. It is a matter of public record. A senator from Fata from Mehsud tribe is a witness to this statement of Baitullah Mehsud. Having been able to penetrate in the procession of October 18, 2007, the terrorists became encouraged to undertake another assassination attempt on Benazir. On December 12, 2007, one of the terrorists was able to touch the vehicle of BB after a PPP workers’ gathering at Pabbi. They noted that the security after public meetings becomes lax and Benazir always came out of the sunroof of the vehicle to wave to the workers. Subsequent tracking of the movements of the terrorist groups through call record data analysis indicated the presence of Ibad-ur-Rehman, a hardcore militant, in Nowshera, on that day who had later been found involved in the planning and execution of plan of assassination of Benazir on December 27, 2007 at Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi. 

The same terrorist group kept on chasing Benazir and conspired and planned assassination attempt on her at Arbab Niaz Stadium, Peshawar, after public meeting on December 26, 2007. I was present with Mohtarma when we were told by the police that a bomber with a jacket was spotted, who wanted to explode on Benazir. 

I demanded the report on it from the NWFP police but they gave no response. We pursued and found out during our own government that Abdullah Saeed (long-necked), Bilal and Ikramullah were the suicide bombers; Nasarullah, a student of Darul Aloom Haqqania, along with two others were the handlers. The plan could not be executed because of the strict security arrangements. In Peshawar, a SP and four DSPs were deputed for the close cordon protection of Benazir as compared to only one ASP at Rawalpindi on 27.12.07. 

After various failed attempts the terrorists /anti-MBB finally managed to target Benazir on December 27, 2007 in Rawalpindi after a well-coordinated and organised attack through three successive gunshots followed by suicide bomb blast in close proximity of her vehicle. As a result, she succumbed to her head injuries besides killing of 23 party workers and 70 people sustaining injuries. It happened that the same terrorist group headed by Ibadur Rehman with Bilal Shah (who exploded himself) and Ikram bomber were the key players to kill her. 

The investigation by FIA had revealed that the conspiracy was hatched by five former students of Madrassa Haqqania, Akora Khattak, namely Nadir Qari Ismail, Nasarullah, Abdullah Saddam and Faiz Muhammad Kiskat at their hostel room. Their credentials were later confirmed through the record of the madrassa. It is also part of the investigation that Baitullah Mehsud had provided the suicide bombers money to carry out the plot to assassinate Benazir. Baitullah Mehsud fulfilled his claim to kill her with his men with the local support of anti-PPP elements. The police had arrested accused Hasnain Gul and Muhammad Rafaqat on January 5, 2008. They subsequently made confessional statement under Section 164 CrPC before a magistrate, disclosing having picked up accused Nasarullah and two suicide bombers namely Bilal and Ikramullah from Daewoo terminal Rawalpindi on December 26, 2007; providing shelter to them at the house of accused Rafaqat Hussain; having carrying out reconnaissance of Liaqat Bagh on December 27, 2007 and bringing both the suicide bombers to the crime scene for suicide attack on Benazir. Graphic forensic mobile phone confirms the interconnection and presence on the scene. The subsequent call record and RBS locations analysis had corroborated the confessional statements of both the accused Hasnain Gul and Rafaqat Hussain. 

The police had also arrested Aitzaz Shah, Saifullah, Sher Zaman and Rashid Ahmed and Abdul Rahim Turabi for being privy to and having the knowledge of the conspiracy. The police had also declared six planners and conspirators as proclaimed offenders who were later found killed either by drone attacks or by the security forces in different areas of Fata. 

Ibadur Rehman, an ex-student of Madrassa Haqqania, who had allegedly provided suicide bombers to accused Hasnain Gul and Rafaqat Hussain through accused Nasarullah, was reportedly killed in Tirah, Khyber Agency, in a drone attack on 13.5.10 when FIA was chasing to arrest him including 14 other militants including foreigners. Interestingly, it was the only drone attack in Khyber Agency. 

Abdullah Saddam, the ex-student of Madrassa Haqqania, Akora Khattak, allegedly involved in the planning, taking suicide bombers from Baitullah along Nadir Qari Ismail and transportation of suicide vests, were killed in Mamad Gatt, Mohmand Agency in an explosion on 31.5.08 and in Mohmand Agency on 15.1.08, respectively. 

Similarly, Nasrullah Ahmed r/o Madrassa Haqqania, Akora Khattak, who had been focal person in Rawalpindi, took two suicide bombers Saeed Bilal and Ikramullah from Baitullah Mehsud, carried out reconnaissance of the place of occurrence, and was also killed in Mohmand Agency on 15.1.08. 

The other two proclaimed offenders namely Faiz Muhammad Kiskat, ex-student Madrassa Haqqania, and Ikramullah, the second suicide bomber had, however, vanished from the face of the earth. 

The above chronological events are clear manifestation of the persistence chase by al-Qaeda, its affiliated groups and other extremist groups of the country for Benazir. These groups also had the patronage of the protégés of Gen Zia. Mian Nawaz Sharif, one of the ideological disciples, had been one of the fiercest enemy - not political but personal – of Benazir Bhutto. 

The washing of the crime scene just after one hour and forty minutes without any logical and rationale justification resulted in the loss of opportunity to collect vital forensic evidence from the crime scene. The washing of crime scene and earlier withdrawing of security contingent from the place of public meeting is clearly indicative of local and internal support to the terrorists. 

The avoidance of former president Pervez Musharraf to face BB murder trial is leaving a big question mark? Again the murder of a prosecutor Ch Zulfiqar was another attempt to thwart the trial and it is confirmed he was killed by al-Qaeda related family where Khalid Shaikh 2nd in command of al-Qaeda was recovered by IB and now undergoing imprisonment with his nephew Yousaf Ramzi, who tried the first murder attempt on Benazir with the assistance of Capt Abdul Hakeem from Karachi. 

In 1989, a no-confidence move was hatched against the Benazir government at the behest of the Establishment and out of his hatred and aspirations to become the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif had joined hands with it. Reportedly, he had earlier been able to establish his contacts with Osama bin Laden, who financed the first no confidence move against the BB government through late Khalid Khawaja through an undertaking that he would like to see the introduction of Islamic system in Pakistan. 

In 1988, Gen Hameed Gul, the then DG/ISI had played a major role in forging a right-wing conservative alliance against the government of Benazir. Initially Maulana Samiul Haq was announced the president of IJI but later the leadership of IJI was handed over to Nawaz, who was representing the PML and was vying to control the religious and other parties against Benazir. 

In the background, Nawaz was fully helped by then Establishment, which is matter of record and this is how he was favoured by the Establishment to contest 1990 elections against Benazir. In the background of Soviet war, the militant group like LeJ and SSP remained against Benazir. SSP and al-Qaeda became very close and both al-Qaeda and LeJ started terrorist acts throughout the country. 

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a culmination of animosity of al-Qaeda aligned terrorists against a woman and Shi’ites and power hungry conservative right wing elements in the country. The above failed attempts are strong indicators as to how inimical and determined al-Qaeda was against Benazir. 

The attack on Benazir was organised/conspired at Miramshah by Baitullah Mehsud and Al-Misri from al-Qaeda and here are the details how it was executed through these five confirmed al- Qaeda members duly and their affiliation and links with al-Qaeda was further confirmed when Mullah Mansoor demanded the release of these accused terrorists through Taliban -government dialogue in Murree. 

The history will never allow condoning these five terrorists with such irrefutable evidence. Scraping the investigation/evidence based on purely technical grounds shall neither be accepted by the party and nor the people of Pakistan. This case was almost closed by the Punjab government and it was the PPP government, which further investigated it by transferring the case from Punjab to FIA. Further investigation was conducted under the supervision of highly credible officer DIG Tariq Khosa and subsequently by additional DIG Khalid Qureshi assisted by a team of FIA officers and representatives from intelligence agencies. 

The team of abovementioned officers is known for their integrity. They recorded my statement under Section 161 CrPC besides others namely Naheed Khan, Safdar Abbasi, Farhatullah Babar, Gen Tauqir, driver of the vehicle and Abdul Razzaq; examined the blackberry of Benazir Bhutto; examined Gen Musharraf, police officer on duty, Punjab JIT members, in-laws of accused Ibadur Rehman; carried out forensic analysis of call record data; got DNA of head of suicide bomber Bilal with the joggers and clothes recovered from the house of Rafaqat, who, in fact, had brought Bilal the second suicide bomber, from Daewoo Adda from Akora Khattak to Rawalpindi. 

It is thus clear that finally al-Qaeda had managed to kill Benazir with local support and she lost her struggle against the terrorists/extremists/dictators. We, PPP workers, will continue our struggle till her murderers are hanged. No doubt these elements are still powerful and had links in the corridors of power and can manage their way using terror as weapon but how long? The evidence on record not only will continue to haunt them but the law of nature will bring them to justice. 


The writer is the chairman of think tank “Global Rye” & former interior minister
of Pakistan. 

@Email: rmalik1212@gmail .com