“The merits of the case” By Farahnaz Ispahani

 

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Erstwhile coup-making general and former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was indicted on murder charges Tuesday in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. While the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi had named Musharraf in the case in early 2011, and declared he was a proclaimed offender in August of that year, today’s indictment marks the first time that a former military officer has had to answer to criminal char

ges in a Pakistani court of law. As such, one can only hope that the focus remains on the merits of the case, and that Bhutto’s death and the events surrounding it are not drowned out in a political circus.

Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007, as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi, the Pakistani capital’s twin city and the headquarters for the Pakistani military. According to official reports, in addition to Bhutto, 24 others were killed and 91 were injured when a gunman opened fire on the former prime minister as she headed to her car and a bomb exploded near the scene.

It was the second bloody attack on Bhutto after her return from political exile. Just weeks earlier in Karachi, Bhutto was attacked hours after she touched down on Pakistani soil and though she miraculously escaped death, 149 of her Pakistan Peoples Party workers were killed and 402 supporters and bystanders were injured in multiple bombings.

Bhutto had returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile to take on two pressing issues that were endangering Pakistan as a nation: the increasing radicalization and strength of militant outfits; and the growing interference of the Pakistani establishment and its intelligence agencies in matters of domestic politics and international concern.

After Bhutto’s assassination, the Pakistani government requested that the U.N. Secretary General form a commission to investigate her death. The commission began its work in July 2009, and completed its exhaustive report on March 30, 2010.

While the U.N. Commission Report authored by Heraldo Munoz, Marzuki Darusman, and Peter FitzGerald noted Musharraf’s culpability in Bhutto’s killing, saying “The federal Government under General Musharraf, although fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats,” it also noted the security failures by the local police and the involvement of the Pakistani intelligence services in the ensuing investigations – particularly the hosing down of the scene and thereby washing away all traces of evidence.

What was made even clearer by the report was that Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources, including “Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination.”

Ultimately, the three-member U.N. panel said Bhutto’s death could have been avoided if Musharraf’s government and security agencies had taken adequate protection measures, and it urged Pakistani authorities to carry out a “serious, credible” criminal investigation that “determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and brings those responsible to justice.”

Just days ago, Munoz reiterated his findings, writing in Foreign Affairs: “In Bhutto’s case, it would seem that the village assassinated her: al Qaeda gave the order; the Pakistani Taliban executed the attack, possibly backed or at least encouraged by elements of the establishment; the Musharraf government facilitated the crime through its negligence; local senior policemen attempted a cover-up; Bhutto’s lead security team failed to properly safeguard her; and most Pakistani political actors would rather turn the page than continue investigating who was behind her assassination.”

He continued: “Probably no government or court of law will be able or willing to fully disentangle the whole truth from that web. It may well be that Bhutto’s assassination will be another unsolved case in the long history of impunity in Pakistan, and that the controversy surrounding her assassination will endure as much as her memory.”

As gratifying as Musharraf’s indictment – a move towards justice – is, the issue with the entire case against the former president is that he alone has been accused, stands charged with Bhutto’s murder, and will, at the very least, face trial; even imprisonment is likely if the powerful military establishment does not balk at the sight of one of its own being treated as a mere civilian.

Let’s hope that the Pakistani military and justice system treat this trial on its merits and do not move it into a personal or political realm. Justice has long been denied to the Bhutto family by the courts and it is time for the courts to judge those responsible on the facts of the case alone.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and a former Pakistan Peoples Party member of Pakistan’s parliament.

Link to the original post: http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/08/21/the_merits_of_the_case

Farahnaz Ispahani’s interview to “The voice of Russia”

Former Dictator General Pervez Musharraf indicted in Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s murder case

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf has been indicted on three charges over the 2007 assassination of the country’s opposition leader and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Prosecutors say that he is accused of murder, criminal conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder. The offence carries the death penalty or life imprisonment. Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani, a Pakistani politician and Public Policy Scholar for Woodrow Wilson Center from Washington DC, comments.

First of all, Musharraf has been indicted on three charges, as we know, over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. The offence carries the death penalty or life imprisonment. What do you think the verdict will be, is there any general opinion about it?

Absolutely I do not want to go into the matter of the case and what will probably result because that is left to the court at this point. What is very clear to all Pakistanis today is that this first step is a good thing as it is the first time in Pakistan’s history that a coup-making general has to answer charges in a court of law. As to the specifics of the case at this point, as I said, we cannot comment because it is subjective and we will have to watch and wait for that.

The indictment of Musharraf is actually an unprecedented event, as you said, it’s a step forward. At the same time the military have big authority in the country. So can you say that this decision is actually supported by most people or do they think that this is sort of a blow to the tradition of Pakistan and to the military who are highly respected in the country?

We have two things unclear right now. One is the history of Pakistan’s judiciary. Pakistan’s judiciary has not always stood with the democrats, as in the case of Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s father, Prime Minister and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was in fact condemned to death by judicial action of the court of Pakistan. It was what we call a ‘judicial murder’. So very often we have seen the judiciary aligning itself with the military and the establishment against democrats. As to the Pakistan military and military operators, we have yet to see, they have allowed this case to come so far that whether they will be meddling or going forward – again we’ll have to wait and see soon. Right now this case of this indictment of General Musharraf is going to be very important for Pakistan’s future, going forward, as to whether the judiciary and the military stay out of politics and do not play politics with this case and go forward on the evidence.

How would you explain that although you said that the judiciary and the military were together all the time, how would you explain the fact that this time it seems different, they are making independent decisions?

Well, this is the problem. One of the things that neither my party, the Pakistan People’s Party, which was Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s party, what we don’t want to happen right now is that the judiciary, the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Justice were removed by General Musharraf and Mr. Nawaz Sharif who is the prime minister right now was also removed by General Musharraf. We do not want politics played at the expense of the truth in this case. The case has to go forward. We feel that there will be vindication for Pakistan, democrats in Pakistan and members of Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s family’s party but this case must not become a revenge mechanism for the judiciary and Mr. Nawaz Sharif against Pervez Musharraf because that will devalue the case.

Given what you’ve just said, maybe the death penalty will anyway be perceived as revenge. Is it better for the political development of the country to have life imprisonment as a sentence?

At the moment both are the possibilities. In our former government under President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani, we did not put a single political person or any person to death because President Zardari did not believe in the death penalty. But since Mr. Nawaz Sharif has taken over it seems that he is going to get the death penalty exercised. So we will have to see going forward whether the death penalty option is one that is exercised. But as we always say, democracy is the best revenge, we are not looking for blood but we are looking for justice to be done. And if you look at the United Nations Commission reports, what we’ve done on this, the assassination of Ms. Benazir Bhutto, it was clear that Mr. Musharraf was if not directly complicit he was complicit in certain ways, including the fact that he did not allow Ms. Bhutto the level of security that was due to her as a former prime minister and one who stood up against Muslim extremists and the Taliban.

Link to the original interview and Audio File & Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/2013_08_21/First-time-in-Pakistans-history-coup-making-general-has-to-answer-charges-interview-4116/?from=menu

“Pakistan’s number one threat” by Farahnaz Ispahani

For the last few days, Pakistan‘s capital has been on high alert due to the threat of a possible terrorist attack. Police and military vehicles have paraded around the city, commandos and snipers have been posted on Islamabad‘s picturesque Margalla Hills, and Pakistan’s Navy has been deployed to protect a city that is 915 miles away from the sea. But the mobilization is being portrayed by the country’s media as more of an inconvenience than a necessity. Almost 12 years after it joined the rest of the world in fighting terrorism, Pakistan still remains uncomfortable with the idea of confronting the terrorists. Pakistani politicians, clerics, and journalists see terrorism only as a consequence of their country’s alliance with the West, not as Pakistan’s problem to handle. The high alert in Islamabad follows the recent jailbreak in the country’s northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan. On July 29, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an al-Qaeda ally, freed 253 prisoners, including 45 top terrorists, after storming a high-security prison. Besides five of the attackers, 24 people were killed, including 12 policemen, 4 prisoners, and 3 civilians. But the brazen attack remained the top story in the country’s media for barely a few hours. Squabbling among Pakistan’s politicians over electing a figurehead president garnered greater attention. Soon after, the antics of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which accused populist cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan of contempt of court, became the focus of the nation’s media attention. Interestingly, Khan’s political party rules the Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province where the jailbreak took place. After 9/11, Pakistan joined the ranks of nations united to fight the war against terror. But 12 years later, many Pakistanis remain unconvinced that terrorism must be fought as the greatest threat facing them. It’s odd that this confusion about national priorities persists as at least 5,152 Pakistani civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and its associated groups since 2008, while the total number of Pakistanis killed by terrorism and the military’s effort to fight it since 2001 stands at 49,000. The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak could have been averted if lessons had been learnt from an earlier attack almost a year ago on the Bannu Central jail in southern Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province. Around 400 prisoners were freed by over 200 heavily armed Taliban fighters during that assault. In Bannu, the Taliban attacked with 150 suicide bombers and took over the area for more than two hours. Their goal was to set some of their imprisoned comrades free. The Bannu Central jail was located on the outskirts of the city whereas the Dera Ismail Khan jail was centrally located in the heart of the city. The police headquarters, military cantonment, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps command center were not far from the prison’s location. The Taliban passed several checkpoints, roadblocks, and security personnel in the course of their offensive. Both on their way to the prison and on the way back, the Taliban’s massive convoy managed to go through without any resistance. Unluckily for the Shi’a prisoners in the jail, there was to be no release to freedom. Instead they were brutally murdered before the Taliban and the prisoners they freed drove off. The attack lasted six hours, reflecting the slow response of the authorities. No one scrambled fighter jets or sent up helicopters once the attack on the prison was known. The Taliban knew what they were doing and were prepared. The officials, on the other hand, were not. The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak was one in a series of attacks on prisons, which Interpol suspects involve al-Qaeda. But so far, no Pakistani official has been held accountable for the incident and there has been no public discussion of the inside help the Taliban might have received. Among those freed from both the Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan prisons were several former military and law enforcement personnel who had sided with the Taliban or al-Qaeda in the past, but there seems to be little effort to figure out the extent of the terrorist groups’ penetration of Pakistan’s security services. Over the last year, several U.S. government officials and counter-terrorism experts declared that al-Qaeda had been greatly weakened and was no longer a major threat to the United States and its allies; however, recent intelligence about a major threat from the group has revived concern about its rejuvenation. The U.S. reaction to this threat was the immediate temporary closure of dozens of its diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa. In Pakistan, the government’s response has been restricted to the show of force in Islamabad. The claims of victory against al-Qaeda were premature, and the U.S. embassy closures may be the starting point of re-thinking the group’s capacity for carrying out attacks. But in Pakistan’s case, there is still no willingness to recognize that fighting terrorism must be the country’s number one priority. Directly after the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak and the Islamabad high alert, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left the country for Saudi Arabia for a non-obligatory religious pilgrimage. Seeing the government, and even the public, paying attention to everything but the terrorist threat, al-Qaeda and the TTP have stepped up their propaganda efforts alongside their attacks. Just this week, for example, the TTP publicly announced that it was holding hostage the kidnapped son of former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, partly as a warning to his successor about the terrorist group’s reach. Instead of being motivated to mobilize public support for a coherent strategy, most Pakistani leaders are content to ignore the Jihadi menace. Once the current alert recedes, Pakistanis will most likely return to their television sets to watch game shows in which children are given away as prizes. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, however, will be quietly planning their next big attacks.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former parliamentarian for the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Link to the orignal Article published by Foreign Policy- http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/08/08/pakistans_number_one_threat