Supreme Court of Pakistan criticizes authorities over Bhutto murder

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday criticised official handling of the murder of politician Benazir Bhutto.

Benazir Bhutto in 2004.
Image: IFaqeer.

Since her death, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which she led, has gained control of the nation. A number of high-profile politicians are suspects in the killing but nobody has been convicted. Bhutto's former protocol minister Chaudhry Aslam petitioned the court to ensure a new First Information Report (FIR) was issued against a number of suspects, allowing them to be investigated.

How can a sub-inspector have enough courage to probe someone at the helm of affairs?

—Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry

The court approved his request and questioned the PPP's opposition to a new FIR. It also questioned Aslam's failure to approach the court earlier. Twelve suspects are named, including ex-President Pervez Musharraf, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, ex-Intelligence Bureau director general Ijaz Shah, former acting Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz and ex-Chief Minister of Punjab Pervaiz Elahi.

The court further asked all suspects to relinquish positions of authority. "How can a sub-inspector have enough courage to probe someone at the helm of affairs?" asked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, sitting on a bench of three alongside Justice Tariq Parvez and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain. They said a fair investigation could not be carried out as long as suspects were in power.

The court also had questions concerning a report into the murder compiled by the United Nations: "Why did the government not publish the UN Commission report on which Rs60 million of the taxpayers' money was spent? Why have no steps been taken in the light of the report? Why was the murder of an internationally acclaimed leader not been taken up in the assemblies and relevant parliamentary forums?"

Interior Minister Malik, named on the new FIR, and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, another PPP minister, had opposed another FIR. Malik had claimed it was needless as other suspects had been charged. The court rejected this, saying the implication was the case should therefore cease to be heard. Malik's lawyer sought a week to for his client to lodge a reply, to which Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry retorted "You want to create obstacles in the proceedings? How much longer do you want to linger?", adding Malik should appear in person before the court.

The Benazir Bhutto case is back before the Supreme Court on April 24.