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Benazir murder case: Court questions PPP leaders ‘disappearance’ from Liaquat Bagh

Benazir murder case: Court questions PPP leaders ‘disappearance’ from Liaquat Bagh

ISLAMABAD: The ‘sudden disappearance’ of Rehman Malik, Babar Awan and others from Liaquat Bagh came under discussion during a hearing of the Benazir Bhutto murder case at a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Thursday.

ATC Judge Asghar Ali Khan asked Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Special Prosecutor Khawaja Imtiaz why Mr Malik, Mr Awan and others who were sitting in Bhutto’s backup vehicle, rushed to Zardari House before her vehicle had left the venue.

According to the testimonies of several prosecution witnesses, including senior police officers, the backup vehicle – a bulletproof Mercedes – was included in the slain PPP leader’s convoy for emergencies.

The prosecutor told the court that in addition to Mr Malik and Mr Awan, Farhatullah Babar and retired Lt Gen Tauqeer Zia were also in the backup vehicle.

Only two of nearly dozen passengers in Benazir’s ill-fated vehicle, backup car have recorded statements, FIA prosecutor tells ATC

He told the court that the joint investigation team (JIT) that conducted an investigation under the PPP regime did not list the passengers of the backup vehicle.

When asked by the ATC judge, the prosecutor disclosed on Thursday that of the around dozen passengers from Bhutto’s vehicle and the backup car, only two had testified before the court under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

He said that since the backup vehicle had already left the venue before Bhutto was assassinated, in their initial statements before the investigation team, the passengers of the backup vehicle had stated that they did not know anything about the incident since they were not present at the scene at the time.

When the judge asked why the backup vehicle left the venue in such haste, the prosecutor said that they were supposed to make arrangements for Bhutto at Zardari House in Islamabad, ahead of her arrival.

“[The passengers of the backup car] said they had rushed to Zardari House to open it for Benazir; was not any staff or servant available in Zardari House to perform such a job?” the judge asked. However, the prosecutor could not respond to this question.

To another query regarding the number of people sitting in the vehicle designated for Bhutto, the prosecutor listed then-senior superintendent of police (SSP) retired Maj Imtiaz Hussain, Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbasi, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, as well as Khalid Shehenshah, Razzaq Mirani, and the driver Javed Rehman.

Of these, the prosecution listed only Maj Hussain and the driver as witnesses.

The prosecutor said the then-SSP was the security officer assigned to Bhutto. According to his testimony, the then-Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) director general Lt Gen Nadeem Taj and Maj Gen Ehsan met Bhutto the night before her assassination and tried to persuade her not to address the Liaquat Bagh rally due to an imminent threat to her life.

The prosecutor also read out the statement of US lobbyist Mark Siegel, which linked retired Gen Pervez Musharraf to the assassination of the PPP leader.

Mr Siegel had testified before the ATC that Gen Musharraf did not want Bhutto in Pakistan before the 2008 general elections, and had threatened her with dire consequences.

The prosecutor completed reading the statements of all 68 prosecution witnesses on Thursday. He is scheduled to continue reading the confessions of the accused on Friday.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2017

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