Former President of Pakistan and ex military leader, Pervez Musharraf has been declared an "absconder" in the murder case of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
A Pakistani anti-terrorism court made the ruling and has ordered for Musharraf’s property to be seized.
Benazir Bhutto was one of the most powerful politicians in Pakistan. Part of a political dynasty, she came into prominence when her father, the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was overthrown by the military. Undeterred by the coup, Bhutto ran a campaign to free her father from prison and to fight the military rule. Her time in politics was often tumultuous and she spent multiple years in exile. However, she was also elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan twice during her life.
Musharraf is a retired four-star army general who had led the Kargil infiltration that caused the war between India and Pakistan in 1999. During that period, he also had a tense relationship with then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif even tried to remove Musharraf from his position but was unsuccessful. This resulted in a coup staged by the Pakistani army through which Musharaff came into power. Sharif was placed under house arrest. Musharaff served as the President of Pakistan. He resigned in 2008 under the threat of impeachment. At the time, he had said that it was his duty to “save” Pakistan.
During the time he was the President, Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007 after eight years in exile. She had said that Musharraf's refusal to restore democracy was destroying the sovereignty of the nation. On December 27, 2007, Bhutto was assassinated while campaigning for the upcoming elections. Musharaff declared a three day mourning period. In emails that she had written in October 2007, Bhutto had said that if she were killed, the blame should be on Musharaff for not providing adequate security.
The anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has announced its decision to drop the charges against five members of the Pakistani Taliban who had been linked to Bhutto’s assassination. The court noted that there wasn’t enough evidence to incriminate them.
In 2013, Musharraf was indicted on charges of murder, criminal conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder. In 2016, he was allowed to leave the country on grounds of seeking medical treatment. He is currently on a self imposed exile in Dubai. His lawyer has said that this was a "disappointing and a flawed judgment.”
The court has also ordered for Musharraf’s property in Pakistan to be seized. The court’s judgement means that Musharraf is a fugitive.
The court also found two police officials, Saud Aziz and Khurram Shahzad, guilty in the case and sentenced them to 17 years in jail. One of them was accused of mishandling Bhutto’s security. The other has been held guilty of mishandling the crime scene.
Our assessment is that this ruling could tarnish the legacies of one of the most divisive political figures in Pakistan. It is unlikely Musharraf will be able to recover.