Pakistan's Former Leader Musharraf Charged In Bhutto's Death

A Pakistani court Tuesday indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. For more on this development, Renee Montagne talks to Associated Press reporter Rebecca Santana, who's in Islamabad.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. A dramatic turn of events in Pakistan this morning where a court has indicted the country's former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, in the murder of Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto was an internationally known name and a popular former prime minister of Pakistan who was making a political comeback in 2007 when she was assassinated at a campaign rally.

Musharraf was president at the time, having initially led a coup to take over the post. After being forced to step down, he went into exile and he's returned in recent months. It's a case that contains both lots of intrigue and serious implications for Pakistan. To help understand what those are, we go to Rebecca Santana, who is a reporter in Islamabad for the Associated Press. Thank you for joining us.

REBECCA SANTANA: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Now what happened in the court there today? The charges, what are they exactly, against Musharraf?

SANTANA: Well, he was charged today in court in Rawalpindi with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and facilitation of murder. They have not specifically said what exactly he has done that would constitute one of these charges. What the prosecutors have said, previously, is that he failed to protect her. Now, Musharraf, at the time, said that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for her death.

But there's always been questions about exactly who is responsible for her assassination.

MONTAGNE: Aside from the allegations in this case, isn't it a big step to bring a former leader of the Pakistani military and a long-time president into court?

SANTANA: It is very serous to do something like this against a former army chief, which is really the top position within the Pakistani military, the most powerful position within the country. And it's unprecedented to formally indict them on any charge. So, you know, each step along this political process for Musharraf has been fairly new ground for Pakistan.

The military here is sacrosanct. To be fair, the courts are fairly independent. You know, they have a lot of animosity towards Musharraf because he is accused of detaining a number of top judges, including the chief justice. And that sparked protests across the country by lawyers that essentially led to his downfall.

MONTAGNE: And there's a fair amount of intrigue around this case. One thing is that the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is a political enemy of Musharraf. But this prosecution might not be something he wants to see.

SANTANA: Exactly. It's a very strange turn of events, you know, and a change of fortunes for both men. Because Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister who was deposed by Musharraf in that 1999 coup. He was in handcuffs. He was very embarrassed. He was forced to leave the country and went into exile in Saudi Arabia. He didn't return until 2007, about the same time that Benazir Bhutto did.

And then finally, this May, his political party won a very strong victory and he was returned to the prime minister's office. But this decision to go after Musharraf and to push these cases, it also puts Nawaz Sharif in very delicate territory because he has a lot of other things on his agenda.

He needs to improve electricity, improve security, and going after the former army chief is such a public way could pick a fight with the military at a time that Nawaz Sharif just doesn't want to do that.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, where does the case and Musharraf go next?

SANTANA: Legal cases in Pakistan can drag out for years, if there is will, they can be done fairly quickly. So it's really, you know, there's going to be a lot of focus on how quickly this case moves forward and what exactly happens.

MONTAGNE: Associated Press reporter, speaking with us from Islamabad, Rebecca Santana, thanks very much.

SANTANA: No problem. Thanks for having me.

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