Benazir murder — mystery remains unsolved

On December 27th 2007, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lost its party chief, and the nation lost a sincere leader with the murder of Benazir Bhutto. Born in Karachi to a politically important, aristocratic family; her father, the PPP’s founder and leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was elected as PM on a socialist platform in 1973. Bhutto’s little girl ‘Pinky’ later became the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim majority nation, known to be ideologically a liberal and secularist.

Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto was later given death sentence by a Dictator Gen ZiaulHaq and his daughter succumbed to another Dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf.

From its diehard workers getting beaten up for protesting in military regimes to the leaders sacrificing their lives for democracy, the party has a long history of sacrifices. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was also targeted by the same fanatics who were responsible for Benazir’s murder. While in exile, she managed and successfully ran the party and later decided to return to the country for 2008 elections. Following United States-brokered negotiations with President and Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf, she returned to Pakistan in 2007, and focused on issues like civilian oversight of the military and opposition to growing Islamist violence.

Upon her return, she was well received by people of Pakistan. Bhutto faced a suicide attack on her political rally in Karachi in which she remained safe, but she was assassinated in another such attack in Rawalpindi. For the masses, Bhutto was an iconic figure, but she faced much opposition from Pakistan’s Islamist lobby for her secularist and modernising agenda.

She nevertheless remained domestically popular and also attracted support from Western nations, for whom she was a champion of democracy and women’s rights. Several universities and public buildings in Pakistan bear Benazir’s name, while her career influenced a number of activists including Malala Yousafzai. Pakistani Senator Rehman Malik, a senior party leader and former interior minister, shared his views with me on the phone. On the day of her assassination, he was in the same motorcade that was targeted by suicide bomber.  Rehman Malik’s vehicle was ahead of Benazir’s bomb proof SUV.

From its diehard workers getting beaten up for protesting in military regimes to the leaders sacrificing their lives for democracy, the party has a long history of sacrifices. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was also targeted by the same fanatics responsible for Benazir’s murder

Eye witness accounts suggest that Bhutto was urged by some followers in the crowd to come out of the sunroof, she opened the car’s escape hatch and stood up to wave back at them.  A man stood within two to three metres of the car, fired three gunshots at her, and detonated a suicide vest packed with ball bearings. Bhutto was fatally injured; reports differ as to whether she was hit by bullets or by shrapnel from the explosion. Malik says that they were advised on radio to drive away from the scene as fast as possible and so they did.

Rehman Malik said he was shocked to learn that they were still able to make phone calls from the SUV they were in at Liquat Bagh, “I was surprised that our cell phones were still working, despite the then government’s promises of putting jammers in place to avoid detonation”.

After the blast, Bhutto was rushed to Rawalpindi General Hospital, but was declared clinically dead on arrival and attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. Sources tell that on ‘someone’s’ direct orders, crime scene was power washed immediately, in the hospital no autopsy was conducted, and the body was swiftly transported to Chaklala Air Base.

When I asked Rehman Malik that why after ten years the perpetrators for her assassination are not still not behind the bars, he blamed it to on the then military dictator who was according to him totally non-cooperative.

Authorities in Pakistan claimed that the assassin had been a teenage boy from South Waziristan. They claimed they had proofs that the attack had been masterminded by Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban. One of the suspects also later became a target of a drone attack in the northern Miranshah.

The US Central Intelligence Agency concurred that this was probable and Mehsud believed that Bhutto’s pro-American and secularist agenda would undermine the Pakistani Taliban’s control of South Waziristan and hinder the growth of Sunni Islamist radicalism.

According to Malik, Musharraf advised Benazir about security threats and that she should not come in early December. He told BB “We will celebrate New Year here in Pakistan” and her response was, “I will come to Pakistan when I want to not when you want me to”. Musharraf clearly didn’t like that confidence. Benazir Bhutto was known to be bold and blunt and even General Musharraf had tough time dealing with her. Former Interior Secretary of State Rehman Malik mentioned that Musharraf asked him to convince BB to follow his timeline – an offer she declined.

The entire world believes that she wasn’t a threat to Pakistan, then who felt threatened by her return to the country? Where is Pakistan standing today on the war against fanatics? There may be some physical evidences of few military operations on ground, but brainwashing the nation continues by religious fanatics who are given space on national media.  Bhutto is no more, mullahs like Khadim Hussain Rizvi are free to take out rallies on the streets of the capital and the true legacy of Jinnah has died.

In today’s Pakistan, progressive, liberal and moderate political leadership is maligned and portrayed as evil and corrupt. Democracy always seems to be at the verge of collapse. No democratically elected PM could survive against this mindset, and in my opinion, the real culprit is still at large.

The writer is a social and civil right activist and very vocal on Human Right violations across the globe. He works as Host/Producer (Current Affairs) at a leading news channel of North America. He can be reached at anisfarooqui@gmail.com and tweets @anis_farooqui

Published in Daily Times, December 24th 2017.

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