x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pakistan charges 2 officers, 5 suspected Taliban in Bhutto assassination

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, 54, was shot dead during a suicide bomb attack in December 2007 after addressing a political rally in Rawalpindi.

LAHORE, PAKISTAN // A Pakistani anti-terror court yesterday charged two police officers and five suspected Taliban militants over the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The two officers, one of them the former police chief of Rawalpindi, are accused of security negligence. The other five are charged with criminal conspiracy. All five deny the charges, said Chaudhry Azhar, the special public prosecutor.

Ms Bhutto, 54, was shot dead during a suicide bomb attack in December 2007 after addressing a political rally in Rawalpindi, the garrison city just outside Islamabad.

Her assassination plunged the country into political turmoil. Her party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, went on to win national elections in 2008 and now leads the ruling coalition. Her husband, Asid Ali Zardari, is Pakistan's president.

Mr Zardari and the government have faced widespread criticism over the slow pace of the investigation into the killing.

The charges against the seven men were heard inside Adiala Jail, a high-security prison on the outskirts of Rawalpindi. Justice Shahid Rafique scheduled the next hearing for November 19 when witnesses will begin giving evidence.

Prosecutors say the police chief of Rawalpindi at the time, Saud Aziz, failed to provide proper security for Ms Bhutto, the target of a failed assassination attempt a month before her death, and allowed the crime scene to be cleared before all evidence could be collected. A junior officer, Khurram Shahzad, faces similar charges.

The five accused militants are Sher Zaman, Hasnain Gul, Rafaqat Hussain, Abdul Rasheed and Aitzaz Shah. Investigators say they provided logistical support to the 15-year-old suicide bomber and had links with Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009.

A United Nations investigation into the assassination of Ms Bhutto found Pakistani authorities had deliberately failed to properly investigate the killing.

And doubts remain widespread in Pakistan over who masterminded the assassination. "The indictment of low-level officials whose involvement seems largely to have been the cover-up of the crime rather than the assassination itself promotes the belief that the actual killers and masterminds of the attack will probably never be brought to justice," said Rafia Zakaria, a columnist with the newspaper Dawn.