Twist in the tale : Pakistan seeks reopening of Bhutto’s hanging case

April 13, 2011

Former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto prays at the grave of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh near Larkana, 480 km (300 miles) from Karachi December 22, 2007. REUTERS/Nadeem Soomro

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has written a letter to the Supreme Court to review the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — the country’s first popularly-elected prime minister — over three decades ago.

The reopening of Bhutto’s case was one of the long-running demands of the supporters of the charismatic leader but critics say the timing of Zardari’s move was intriguing.

Opponents say Zardari’s move seems to be a political stunt to divert people’s attention from more pressing problems like  inflation, the growing energy crisis and deteriorating security situation. Zardari, who is accused of corruption by his opponents, has seen his popularity waning in recent years. 

“At a more practical level, people ask why the president has suddenly acquired so keen interest in the case, especially since far more pressing matters remain unresolved,” the daily The News wrote in its editorial.”The suspicion that this is the first step in  a political game of some kind makes the whole thing seem especially sinister. Who knows what is being planned, what plots are being hatched, and why.”

 Ehtesham Siddiqui, a resident of Islamabad, suggested Zardari  give more attention toward resolving the mystery surrounding the murder of his wife and Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, a more recent event  than Bhutto’s hanging that took place in 1979. Benazir was assassinated in a suicide bombing in Rawalpindi in 2007.

 ”The assassin (s), collaborators and perpetrators of the crime and all other elements linked with the ghastly murder (of Benazir) are believed to be very much alive and they are around,” Siddiqui said in a letter published in the Dawn newspaper. “It is beyond comprehension of the common man as to why the PPP is not serious in pursuing Benazir’s murder case and is trying to whip a dead horse instead.”

 After coming into power, Zardari vowed to bring  the killers of his wife to justice. However, critics say Zardari is dragging his feet on the case. A court in February issued an arrest warrant for former military President Pervez Musharraf who was in power when Bhutto killed. While Musharraf has dismissed accusations of involvement in Bhutto’s killing, a report by a United Nations Commission of inquiry released last year said any credible investigations into her killing should not rule out the possibility that members of Pakistan’s military and security establishment played a role.

Critics say Zardari was reluctant to aggressively pursue Benazir’s murder case fearing that it could annoy the powerful military.

 Aneela Chandio, a resident of Bhutto’s as well as Zardari’s home province of Sindh, was more blunt in her criticism of the government’s move to open Bhutto’s case. “The death sentence given to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto…was a miscarriage of justice. However, the government’s move to send a reference to the Supreme Court to revisit this decision seems politically motivated,” she wrote in her letter in The News.

Bhutto’s hanging by the military ruler General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq was one of the shocking events of Pakistan’s turbulent political history. Zia toppled Bhutto  in 1977. Bhutto was arrested on charges of conspiracy to kill an opposition politician. He was subsequently sentenced to death by a high court and then was eventually hanged in 1979 after his appeals were rejected.

Though Bhutto is criticised for some of his controversial actions he took during his rule like  the nationalisation of  industry and ordering of a military operation in the southwestern Baluchistan province, he was considered as one of the most charismatic leaders of Pakistan. He founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) whose slogan of roti, kapra aur makan (bread, cloth and shelter) became the rallying cry for millions of poor in the country.

Despite all his weaknesses, many Pakistanis, even Bhutto’s critics, believe that the murder trial held under the military regime was seriously flawed and it should be reopened. “The PPP had never intended to seek revenge but it wanted to put right a historic wrong and thereby vindicate the position of the founding chairman of the party,” Zardari’s office said in a statement after he signed a request for the Supreme Court to revisit the trial. The court began hearing the case on April 13.



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