Pakistan court declares Musharraf absconder in Benazir Bhutto murder case

Rawalpindi, Aug 31 :  Former Pakistani President and Army chief Pervez Musharraf was today declared an absconder in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, Pakistani media reported.

An Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi sentenced two senior police officers to 17 years in jail in the murder case. Five other accused – believed to be members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan – were acquitted on a lack of evidence.

The Express Tribune reported that Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, who was president when Bhutto was assassinated, has been declared a proclaimed offender and the court has ordered authorities to seize his property.

 Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. 23 Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) workers had also died in the attack.

The murder case was registered soon after her assassination and the trial went through many ups and down until it concluded yesterday in Rawalpindi.

Judge Asghar Khan announced the verdict, declaring Musharraf a proclaimed offender and ordered seizure of his property.

Musharraf, 74, has been living in Dubai since last year when he was allowed to leave Pakistan on pretext of medical treatment.

The judge sentenced former Rawalpindi CPO Saud Aziz and former Rawal Town SP Khurram Shahzad, suspects out on bail, to 17 years in prison and ordered them to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh each.

Both police officers – who were present in the court – were arrested from Adiala Jail. Five Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) suspects have been acquitted over lack of evidence.

The suspects – Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul, Sher Zaman, Aitzaz Shah and Abdul Rashid – were arrested soon after the crime and have been in jail. They had denied the charges.

All accused were present at the time of announcement of trial, except Musharraf.

The trial of five suspects started in January 2008, while Musharraf, Aziz and Shahezad were implicated in 2009 after fresh probe by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

“10 years later and we still await justice. Abettors punished but those truly guilty of my mothers murder roam free,” Bhutto’s daughter Aseefa Bhutto Zardari tweeted soon after the verdict was announced.

“There will be no justice till Pervez Musharraf answers for his crimes,” she tweeted.

Bhutto’s another daughter Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari tweeted, “Musharraf ordered crime scene washed & doors locked trapping SMBB vehicle inside #ArrestMusharraf.”

Pakistan Peoples Party leader Sheila Raza also expressed dissatisfaction over the verdict. “We had reservations over the probe and the FIR lodged by the government,” she said.

Eight different judges heard the case during this period who were changed due to different reasons.

Initially TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud was blamed for murder and Musharraf government issued a taped conversation of Mehsud with a certain operator in which he was congratulating the operator for the murder.

But FIA Chief Prosecutor Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry in his concluding arguments disowned the evidence of audio record and transcript of telephonic conversation.

He termed it a cooked up story by Musharraf to mislead the investigators and to save himself.

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