Indrajit Hazra talks to writer-journalist Amir Mir about the investigations into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the future of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Excerpts from the interview:
You mention the collaborative role of the ISI and the Musharraf regime with fundamentalists in Benazir Bhutto’s death. Is Taseer’s murder a continuation of this nexus?
Taseer was shot dead by a religiously motivated fundamentalist, a Punjab Elite Force security guard believed to be an active member of Daawa-e-Islami, a Sunni religious group with Barelvi leaning. The killer, Mumtaz Qadri, has already confessed, saying he killed Taseer because of his recent criticism of the country’s blasphemy law. The murder adds another chapter to the history of a country frequently held hostage by bearded agents of hatred, backed by elements in the security and intelligence establishments.
The UN report on Bhutto’s death asked the Zardari government to start investigations. Has there been any progress?
The murder investigations by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are still going on. The challan of the case was submitted in an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) only in November 2010. The FIA was subsequently allowed by the court to arrest and interrogate two senior police officials responsible for Bhutto’s security the day she was assassinated. Five militants arrested in connection with the murder are already behind bars and being tried by the same ATC. However, both the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, who allegedly masterminded the murder, and al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Yazid, who claimed responsibility for it, have already been killed in American drone strikes in Waziristan.
Will Musharraf’s scheduled return to Pakistani politics make any difference to the proceedings of the investigation?
Preliminary investigations by the FIA have established that around 125 commandos of the Punjab Police’s Elite Force, who were supposed to provide a security box to Bhutto and escort her cavalcade to her Islamabad residence after the Liaqat Bagh rally, were moved from the rally site on the orders of Saud Aziz, the then Capital City Police Officer of Rawalpindi, believed to be acting under instructions of some senior army and ISI officers considered close to Musharraf. The FIA has recently sent a questionnaire to Musharraf, asking why he did not provide adequate security to Bhutto. But currently living in self-imposed exile in London, Musharraf is beyond the reach of the Pakistani authorities. Since the political clout of the army refuses to diminish, many in government circles believe the country’s khaki top brass will not allow a potentially humiliating probe against their former chief.
What is the future of the PPP?
Despite charges of bad governance and corruption, the PPP has a future because of being the only federalist party with representation in all the four provinces of the country. In a land where people forget quickly, the PPP has been entrusted by a majority vote five times in three decades.
Are people like Imran Khan guilty of playing a dangerous populist game that makes fundamentalists more powerful?
Imran Khan is a Taliban without a beard. He initially won liberal hearts by building a cancer hospital and fashioning himself as a reformer. But he has increasingly turned to hard-line politics, pleading the case of the Taliban.