The decision by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to interrogate former interior minister Rehman Malik in the Benazir Bhutto (BB) murder case has given impetus to the questions raised about his role as head of Benazir’s security team.
As many as 1,371 policemen had been deployed for her security during her public gathering at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. Benazir was standing through the sunroof of her jeep waving to supporters as she left the venue when she was shot by a terrorist. She slumped down into the car and died in the arms of her political secretary Naheed Khan.
Malik, who was Benazir’s chief of security, has been accused of fleeing the crime scene along with Babar Awan, Lt Gen (r) Tauqir Zia, Farhatullah Babar and driver Khizer in a car, which was the back-up vehicle for Benazir in case she wanted to use it in an emergency.
Former protocol officer to Benazir Bhutto, Muhammad Aslam had lodged a murder case against former president Pervez Musharraf, former Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi, former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Ijaz Shah, two serving ministers and eight police and administration officials for their alleged involvement in her assassination. He also nominated Malik and others in the case.
Aslam also named then interior minister Lt Gen (r) Hamid Nawaz, Brig (r) Javed Iqbal Cheema, Irfan Elahi, Saud Aziz, Yaseen Farooq and Khurram Shahzad accusing them of direct or indirect involvement in the conspiracy to kill Benazir.
He also contended that Malik and Awan forced the driver of the back-up car to leave immediately.
“When the [motorcycle] pilot saw the car was going at full speed, he drove to lead them. The police security squad and private security also followed them. When the car in which Benazir was sitting came out of the gate there was no police and private security. The security officials thought she was in the car that left,” he said.
Aslam said he saw laser beams flash past Benazir’s car and that she slumped down inside the car as the sound of bullets flew around. An explosion followed the shots, leaving 35 people dead, he said.
MALIK’S SECURITY ROLE
Even though Malik claimed that he was not an adviser on physical security, the letters he wrote to authorities and his liaison role with security and intelligence agencies showed that he was deeply involved in the overall management of Benazir’s security. The rapid departure of the only back-up vehicle in which Malik and other PPP leaders drove away was a serious security lapse.
After moving a safe distance away from the attack scene, the occupants of the vehicle should have waited to see for themselves if Benazir’s vehicle was able to depart safely and if there was a need for a back-up vehicle. As the back-up, their vehicle would have been a necessary part of the convoy whether Benazir’s vehicle was damaged or not, said the enquiry report of the UN Commission.
Babar had occupied the front passenger seat and, in the rear seats from left to right were Awan, Malik and Zia.
The UN commission released a report on April 16, 2010 which said that the country’s president at the time of the assassination, General (r) Pervez Musharraf, was aware of and tracking the many threats against Benazir. But Musharraf’s government “did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralising them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats”, it said.
The report said that the security arrangements made by the Pakistan Peoples’ Party were also ill-organised and characterised by lack of professionalism. It said the slain leader’s security in charge Major Imtiaz failed to provide effective leadership in ensuring her protection.
The JIT has already interrogated former president Pervez Musharraf in the case. According to media reports, during the interrogation, Musharraf had denied his involvement in the murder and said the former prime minister had been killed because of security breach for which Malik, being in-charge of her internal security, was responsible.
Musharraf also claimed that Malik was a mediator between him and Benazir and he was negotiating with police for security arrangements for the December 27, 2007 public gathering at Liaquat Bagh.
APML Secretary Information Aasia Ishaq said that she had no access to former president Pervez Musharraf; hence she had no idea about the JIT interrogation.
She said that if Musharraf was responsible for Benazir’s murder, then under the same argument, Benazir was responsible for murder of her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto as she was then prime minister of the country while Asif Zardari was responsible for assassination of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, being president of the country.
Despite repeated attempts, Benazir’s political secretary Naheed Khan could not be contacted.