A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Thursday declared ex-military leader Pervez Musharraf an “absconder” in the murder case of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and acquitted five people of the killing.
As an absconder, Musharraf legally must be arrested and brought to trial if he returns to Pakistan after being allowed to leave the country in 2016. The court also ordered Musharraf’s property in Pakistan seized.
Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide bomb and gun attack in Rawalpindi in 2007, weeks after she returned from exile to campaign in elections to bring back civilian rule.
Bhutto’s daughter Aseefa Zardari tweeted after the court’s decision: “There will be no justice till Pervez Musharraf answers for his crimes!”
Musharraf was charged in 2013 of being culpable in Bhutto’s murder. He seized power in a 1999 coup but stepped down nine years later after allowing new elections.
He is now in self-imposed exile, having been allowed to leave the country in March 2016 for health reasons while awaiting trial on that and other charges.
Officers hampered investigation
Meanwhile, five accused members of the Pakistani Taliban were found not guilty for lack of evidence by the anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad.
Farhatullah Babar, the spokesperson for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, expressed “disappointment and shock” over the verdict and acquittals, saying “justice has not been done.”
The court did find two police officials guilty, Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad. They were convicted of mishandling security at the Bhutto rally and mishandling the crime scene. Each was jailed for 17 years.
In a 2010 report, the United Nations blasted the investigation, saying the Musharraf government “failed in its primary responsibility to provide protection” to Bhutto.
The report also mentioned Aziz by name, alleging that he prevented investigators from reaching the crime scene for two days, by which time much of the scene had been scrubbed.
Bhutto became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim-majority country in 1988, when she first became prime minister. She was the daughter of another former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1977 after being deposed in a coup. She served as prime minister again from 1993-1996.
At the time of her assassination in December 2007, she was a leading opposition figure running to replace Musharraf, who had seized power in a bloodless coup eight years earlier.
Bhutto had repeatedly spoken out against Islamic militant groups, and prior to her assassination had vowed to shut down militant sanctuaries near the border with Afghanistan.