Pakistani court seeks Musharraf’s arrest over Bhutto murder

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A court in Pakistan has issued an arrest warrant for exiled former President Pervez Musharraf. He is accused of involvement in the 2007 assassination of rival and ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto while in power.

Currently in Dubai and residing in London, UK, Musharraf has been given until February 19 to appear before Rawalpindi’s anti-terror court. If he does not, the court says it will declare him a wanted fugitive and the government has suggested Interpol could be called upon to assist with extradition.

Bhutto served from 1988–1990 and 1993–1996 as Prime Minister. In December 2007 her election motorcade was attacked using guns and a suicide bomb, killing her. Last year two senior policemen were arrested on allegations they provided insufficient protection; prosecutors say the duo claimed they removed security from Bhutto’s motorcade just before it set off from a speaking engagement in Rawalpindi on Musharraf’s orders. The attack came soon after.

Her party, the Pakistan People’s Party, won a majority in the subsequent election and her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is the current President. In 2008, Musharraf resigned under threat of impeachment. He had seized power from elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999 after a coup from his role as army chief. Growing dissatisfaction over both foreign and domestic policy led to demonstrations until he called the elections.

The ex-President’s lawyer Mohammad Saif refuted the allegations. “This is just a drama. It is all politics,” he said, adding Musharraf was innocent and would not be appearing in court. The former dictator has not commented publically but denied involvement.

This is just a drama. It is all politics

He has not been indicted and the court says Musharraf has the chance to defend himself as it conducts preliminary hearings on the claims. His position is that the accusations are a smear campaign led by Zardari. He blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the attack at the time; they deny involvement but lead prosecutor Zulfikar Chaudhry said the Taliban was the source of information showing Musharraf was “completely involved.”

“A joint investigation team, in its report to the court, has found Musharraf guilty of being involved in the conspiracy,” said Chaudhry, who is seeking a murder trial. No extradition treaty exists with Britain, but authorities there do decide on case-by-case requests.

Prosecutors contend he was fully aware of the plot in advance. They claim a questionaire was sent to his London home and multiple attempts were made to get in touch, to no avail. Now, investigators say, no further progress can be made without Musharraf.