The former Pakistani military leader Pervez Musharraf was charged on Tuesday in connection with the 2007 killing of the former prime minister.
Nearly six years after Benazir Bhutto was killed after a rally outside the capital of Islamabad, a longstanding demand from her supporters has finally been set into motion. Mr. Musharraf, who was the president of Pakistan when Bhutto was killed, was indicted by a special court on Tuesday.
The indictment itself is a remarkable moment for Pakistan. Military leaders – former or serving – have rarely faced the civilian courts. Musharraf is facing a host of legal issues, ranging from his role in the murder of the Baloch separatist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti to potential treason charges. However, unless Musharraf is formally tried and convicted, these developments are likely to have little impact in Pakistan.
"Indictment mainly means that a process has started. It doesn't indicate that he will be found guilty," says Ayesha Siddiqa, the author of “Military Inc.”
Prior to her assassination, Prime Minister Bhutto told a trusted adviser, lobbyist and author Mark Siegel, that she would hold Musharraf responsible for any attack on her. In a shorthand e-mail, Bhutto wrote:
Just wanted u to know if it does in addition to the names in my letter to Musharaf of Oct 16nth, I wld hold Musharaf responsible. I have been made to feel insecure by his minions and there is no way what is happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides cld happen without him.
Supporters of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party have long demanded that Musharraf be investigated for his role in her murder.
However, Dr. Siddiqa told the Monitor that she considered the development nothing more than paper work. "Last month the Inter-Services Intelligence actually tortured lawyers who were trying to haggle Musharraf in the Islamabad session courts, so I don't think much will come out of it."
While Musharraf himself may not still be popular within the military, the fact that a former army chief is being hauled into court continues to rankle the military that is highly sensitive to dealings with civilian institutions and accountability.
The military has not publicly commented on Musharraf’s legal troubles, but in April a number of serving officers reportedly complained about the way Musharraf had been treated during a visit to Pakistan’s upper house of parliament.
Musharraf was charged with three offenses – murder, criminal conspiracy, and facilitation for murder – according to the AFP. The trial has been ongoing at a special court set up for terrorism cases in Rawalpindi.
A UN inquiry commission tasked with determining the circumstances leading up to Bhutto’s assassination found in its 2010 report that the “security arrangements for Ms. Bhutto were fatally insufficient and ineffective. In this regard, as well, the Pakistani authorities should consider conducting an independent review to determine responsibilities and hold accountable those individuals who seriously failed in their duties.”
Heraldo Muñoz, the head of the commission and the author of a forthcoming book on the assassination, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine this week that Bhutto did not believe that Musharraf wanted her killed, but notes that he bore political and moral responsibility.
“We will probably never know with full certainty who killed Bhutto. The list of people and groups that considered Bhutto a hated enemy is long. There are pieces of the murder puzzle but painfully few elements to put them all together.”