Benazir Bhutto assassination: Nine years later, murder trial still ongoing

Former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto was an iconic figure in the Muslim world. The first Muslim woman to be head of government, she first became the prime minister in 1988 and then in 1993. Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December, 2007 at Liaquat National Bagh in Rawalpindi. She was 53. Incidentally, Liaquat Bagh is also the location where Pakistan's inaugural prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated by an Afghan shooter in October 1951. The trial into her untimely death is ongoing, with the then president Musharraf too being accused of conspiracy. Her death is still mourned by her followers across Pakistan.

Events leading to her death

After General Pervez Musharraf took over the administration of the country in a bloodless coup in October 1999, Opposition leaders including Bhutto went into political exile to escape corruption charges. After being in Dubai for eight years, the two-time prime minister returned to Pakistan on 18 October, 2007. She survived a suicide attack on her welcome procession, which unfortunately killed 150 people.

On 3 November 2007, then president Musharraf declared an Emergency across the country. Later, it was decided that parliamentary elections would be held on 8 January, 2008. The two main parties, PML-N and PPP then geared up for the first free elections since 1997.

 Benazir Bhutto assassination: Nine years later, murder trial still ongoing

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Reuters

On the day of the assassination

Bhutto's jeep, after addressing a rally, was all set to leave Liaquat Bagh. According to a report in Dawn, she appered on the sun roof of the jeep to acknowledge the loud cheers from the crowd. Eyewitness accounts as reported by the daily suggest that four to five gunshots were heard, following which a suicide bomber blew himself up. She was later declared dead at the Rawalpindi General Hospital.

Bhutto was buried the next day alongside her other family members in Sindh's Garhi Khuda Bakhsh.

Investigation and trial

The trial has been going at a slow pace since 2008, reports Pakistani media.In November 2011, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore indicted five militants and two police officers. The five militants belonged to the Pakistan Taliban while the chief of police department, at the time of assassination, Saud Aziz, was charged for being part of the criminal conspiracy. In 2013, Musharraf was charged for criminal conspiracy in connection to the assassination. His trial is still going on and if convicted he can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

The trial has been mired in several controversies, ranging from deaths of special prosecutors, to threats to the lives of several witnesses. In May 2013, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a prosecutor investigating the late prime minister's killing was ambushed by unidentified gunmen. A year later, deaths threats to three police officers and a special prosecutor, led to them not appearing in the court. In 2015, a key witness backtracked from his earlier statement, in which he claimed that adequate security was not provided to the late leader.

Legacy of Bhutto

According to Naheed Khan, a former aide to Bhutto, she was the symbol of a progressive and liberal Pakistan. In his article for The News International, he write that Bhutto stood for democracy in the country and believed poverty and unemployment to be a threat to the growth of democracy in Pakistan. In its obituary, The Telegraph said, "She was seen to greatest effect on the campaign trail, where she was renowned for her hectoring speeches and raucous motorcades. Face to face, she could appear somewhat haughty, not unlike her role model Margaret Thatcher."

However, rampant corruption, including allegations of personal corruption, mired her political career.

Updated Date: Dec 27, 2016 11:57:25 IST