Pakistan's Former President Charged In Benazir Bhutto Murder

Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has been charged with murder in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf is back in Pakistan after a self-imposed exile. He denies the charges. Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at The Atlantic Council, speaks with Melissa Block about the implications of the case.

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. Today, Pakistan's former president and army chief, Pervez Musharraf, was charged with murder in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto was a charismatic opposition leader. She was killed in a bomb and gun attack as she left a campaign rally in Rawalpindi.

And that city was where Musharraf was taken to court today, to face the murder indictment. His lawyer says Musharraf denies all the charges and claims the evidence is fabricated. Well, joining me to talk about this case is Shuja Nawaz. He directs the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council here in Washington. Welcome. Thanks for coming in.

SHUJA NAWAZ: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: First of all, what is the evidence, as far as we know, that Pervez Musharraf was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto?

NAWAZ: We don't know what the evidence is. Till now, no concrete evidence has been produced or talked about. Much of it is circumstantial and it's basically linking him to the fact that he did not provide security for Benazir Bhutto when she came and, therefore, he must have been behind it. And that he had made a veiled threat to her at some time before she came back that she needed to cooperate with him.

BLOCK: She had also said, I believe, before her assassination, if I am killed, know who is responsible. And he, I believe, was one of the names that she gave.

NAWAZ: She gave four names, including him, and she linked all of them to potential threats to her, but there's no evidence to date on anything that links him directly to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

BLOCK: Pervez Musharraf, at the time of Bhutto's killing, blamed it on the Pakistani Taliban and it seemed at the time that the CIA agreed with that. Is that being rethought or is that an alternative theory?

NAWAZ: Well, there was an earlier indictment in 2011 of people associated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan, many of whom were actually not even caught, but they had been identified. In fact, at the time of the assassination, within 24 hours, the interior ministry said that they had solved the case, that they knew that Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, was behind this.

So that was one of the swiftest clarifications of a murder in Pakistani history, a history in which most of these investigations take years and never reach a conclusion.

BLOCK: Pervez Musharraf was forced from office, went into self-imposed exile, lived overseas for four years, and then returned to Pakistan earlier this year, raising a lot of eyebrows of why this man would come back to a country where he knew he would face trouble. Why - how do you explain that? Why did he come back?

NAWAZ: He came back largely because he believed that he would be greeted very warmly and that huge crowds would be there and that the groundwork had been done for him by his newly constituted political party. All that was really not the case. Only about 500 people, most of them journalists, greeted him at Karachi when he arrived. And ever since then, he has been fighting court cases and trying to get bail before arrest.

So he's really had a very rough time and this has probably made the worst week ever since he returned in March this year.

BLOCK: How do you see this all playing out? Musharraf is under house arrest. There's also a possible treason case that might be brought against him. Is it likely that he ultimately will be convicted and serve time? What happens from here?

NAWAZ: Pakistani courts have a very difficult time convicting people, particularly on these kinds of charges, because the laws governing evidence are very strict, and unless and until the government has evidence, I think it's going to be very difficult to find a conviction. I think this is probably going to drag on for quite some time until some kind of a solution, a compromise is found for him to exit the country, perhaps under the good offices of a friendly nation, maybe the Saudis or the Chinese or whoever thinks that this would help Pakistan get out of this mess.

BLOCK: So back into exile yet again.

NAWAZ: Back into exile yet again and maybe not able to go back to Pakistan again in the near future.

BLOCK: Shuja Nawaz directs the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. Thanks so much again for coming in.

NAWAZ: Thank you again for having me.

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