Articles by Amir Mir

Bhutto murder trial suffers another setback

ISLAMABAD: The Benazir Bhutto murder trial has suffered another major setback in a short span of two weeks as yet another witness [now serving in the Ministry of Interior] has retracted his previous statement recorded before the Rawalpindi Anti Terrorist Court (ATC), hence prompting the trial court to declare him a ‘hostile witness’.

Hardly two weeks back, a former Director General of National Crisis Management Cell Brig (R) Javed Iqbal Cheema retracted his previous statement during the Bhutto murder trial on January 16, 2015, in an apparent bid to favour General Musharraf, one of the eight accused charged in the case. The other seven accused are five TTP militants – Sher Zaman, Rashid Ahmad, Qari Hasnain Gul, Rafaqat Hussain and Aitezaz Shah – and two senior police officers – DIG Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shehzad. Yasin Farooq, who was an SP in Rawalpindi the day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, surprised many on January 29, 2015 by retracting his earlier statement in the Rawalpindi ATC against the serving director general of the National Crisis Management Cell, DIG Saud Aziz when he was produced before the court by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as a key witness. Despite Saud and Yasin’s controversial roles in the Bhutto murder case, the two police officers have not only be reinstated but also appointed in the Ministry of Interior as director general and director respectively.

Saud Aziz was Rawalpindi police chief when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. Yasin Farooq had accused Saud Aziz of having removed Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ashfaq Anwar who was assigned to Ms Bhutto’s security, besides ordering the crime scene in Rawalpindi to be hosed down within a few hours, erasing credible evidence. According to the FIA’s chief prosecutor in the Bhutto murder case, Chaudhry Mohammad Azhar, Yasin Farooq had stated in 2010 that Saud Aziz sent DSP Ashfaq Anwar to the Expressway, where someone had opened fire on Nawaz Sharif’s convoy. The prosecution had alleged that Ashfaq was responsible for Ms Bhutto’s ‘box security’ along with 36 commandos from the Elite Force. But Saud Aziz had removed Ashfaq Anwar from the Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi while Benazir Bhutto’s rally was still in progress, which eventually led to a major security lapse and caused the assassination of Ms Bhutto.

Interestingly, DSP Ashfaq Anwar had confirmed to the FIA during investigations of the Bhutto murder case that he was assigned to provide box security to Ms Bhutto, but had been sent to Koral Chowk by the then CPO Saud Aziz to handle another incident. He had added that Saud’s orders left Ms Bhutto devoid of any high-ranking police officer who would oversee her security. Quite curiously, the area where DSP Ashfaq Anwar was deputed by Saud did not come under the jurisdiction of the Rawalpindi police. Instead, it was within the writ of the capital city police, Islamabad. In order to support his statement, Ashfaq Anwar had produced the telecommunication record of December 27, 2007, which was found to have been tampered with.

On his part, Yasin Farooq had stated in his previous statement [which has now been retracted]: “I categorically declare that it was not in my knowledge that Saud Aziz, the City Police Officer, had removed Ashfaq Anwar from his duties. Ashfaq Anwar did not inform me that he had been ordered by the CPO to report to Koral; neither did the CPO discuss these last minute changes with me”. Yasin Farooq further stated that his exclusive duty was to look after the security arrangements at Liaquat Bagh. “I had no authority to interfere with the special escort under the charge of Ashfaq Anwar, who was directly under Saud Aziz’s supervision. Similarly, I was also subordinate to Saud Aziz.”

Nevertheless, while retracting his previous statement before the Rawalpindi ATC, Yasin Farooq claimed on January 29, 2015 that Benazir Bhutto had arrived at the spot in the ‘box security’, led by DSP Ashfaq Anwar and was about to leave Liaquat Bagh with the same details at the time of her death. He said that DSP Ashfaq Anwar was with her at the time of the terrorist attack, denying that there was a security lapse on December 27, 2007. FIA Special Prosecutor Azhar Chaudhry told the trial court the fact that Saud Aziz currently held a senior post in Ministry of Interior, whose National Crisis Management Cell is now being headed by DIG Saud Aziz. He pointed out that SP Yasin Farooq now serves the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as a Director which also comes under the Interior Ministry. “There is possibility of the prosecution witness having been pressured by his seniors to change his previously recorded statement. Therefore, Yasin Farooq may be declared a hostile witness”, the FIA prosecutor pleaded before the trial court judge. The judge subsequently declared him a hostile witness and discarded his testimony at the request of the prosecution.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) constituted by the PPP government to probe the Bhutto murder framed a three-point charge sheet against then CPO Saud Aziz, which included: (i) Inadequate security arrangements; (ii) Postmortem Exemption and (iii) and hosing down the crime scene. Against then SSP Operations Yasin Farooq, the JIT had filed charges of (i) failure in overall security arrangements and (ii) diverting the actual route and (iii) hosing down the crime scene. Superintendent of Police (SP) Headquarter Ashfaq Anwar Khan was held responsible for failure in personal security of Ms Bhutto. Against the SP-Rawal Town, Khurram Shehzad, the JIT filed a charge sheet for hosing down the crime scene as he was present on the scene at the time. The government had subsequently placed the names of Saud Aziz, Yasin Farooq, Ashfaq Anwar and Khuram Shahzad on the ECL after constituting a three-member committee to hold a probe into the hosing down of the place after the assassination.

The United Nations Inquiry Commission on Ms Bhutto’s assassination had made it clear in its inquiry report that, contrary to police’s assertion, there was no police-provided box formation around her as she arrived at a rally and the Elite Force unit did not execute their duties as specified in the security deployment. The United Nations commission said it did not believe that the full escort as described by police was ever present. The UN Inquiry Commission came down hard on CPO Saud Aziz for trying to impede the investigations, for ordering the hosing down of the crime scene and for not letting doctors at Rawalpindi General Hospital carry out a post-mortem examination of Ms. Bhutto’s dead body.

The UN Inquiry Commission report had clearly stated that Saud Aziz impeded the Joint Investigation Team investigators from conducting on-site investigations until two full days after the Bhutto assassination. It stated: “On the evening of 28 December, members of the JIT went to the Police Lines where they met Saud Aziz. Rather than proceeding directly to the crime site, Saud Aziz laid out tea for the JIT investigators in a conference room. While the JIT members were still in the conference room, the television aired the press conference given by Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema. According to a credible source, at the end of the press conference, the CPO rhetorically asked the JIT members what they intended to investigate, since the perpetrator had been identified. As the JIT members pressed to visit the crime scene, CPO Saud Aziz, noting that it was already dark, stated instead that he would arrange for a visit to the scene in the morning. The source noted above interpreted these actions as a means of hindering the JIT investigators’ access to the crime site”.

The UN Commission report added: “On 29 December, 2007, the following day, the JIT investigators returned to the Police Lines where they were able to inspect Ms Bhutto’s vehicle. They discovered early in their inspection that there was no blood or tissue on the escape hatch lever that would be consistent with the gaping injury to Bhutto’s head, suggesting strongly to the investigators that Bhutto had not hit her head on the lever. Following that inspection, rather than taking the investigators directly to the crime scene, Saud Aziz hosted a lunch that went into the late afternoon, at the end of which he again, according to the same source cited above, indicated that it would be dark by the time the team arrived at the crime scene. It was only at around 1700 hours that the JIT investigators were taken to the crime scene at the Liaquat Bagh. The Commission finds it inexplicable that investigators were not in a position to conduct on-site investigations until two full days after the assassination. Such conduct hampered the gathering of evidence and, at the very least, was contrary to best practices. Once at the scene, the investigators could see that it had been hosed down”.

According to the UN Commission report, Saud Aziz’s role in the hosing down of the crime scene is controversial. The report stated: Many senior Pakistani police officials have emphasized that hosing down a crime scene is fundamentally inconsistent with Pakistani police practice. While they acknowledge that there is no uniformity of practice in crime scene management in Pakistan, the hosing down of a crime scene is considered extraordinary. Indeed, with the exception of some Rawalpindi police officials, nearly all senior Pakistani police officials have criticised the manner in which this crime scene was managed. One senior police official has argued that hosing down the crime scene amounted to criminal negligence. Several senior police officials who know Saud Aziz were troubled that an officer with many years of experience would allow a major crime scene to be washed away, thereby damaging his reputation. Sources informed the Commission that Saud Aziz did not act independently in deciding to hose down the crime scene. One source, speaking on the basis of anonymity, stated that Saud had confided in him that he had received a call from Army Headquarters instructing him to order the hosing down of the crime scene. Others, including three police officials, told the Commission that Saud Aziz did not act independently and that everyone knows who actually ordered the hosing down. However, they were not willing to state on the record what it is that “everyone knows”.

However, the legal counsel of former City Police Officer (CPO) Rawalpindi Saud Aziz, Waheed Anjum, has already refuted all these allegations as simply baseless, adding that these have yet to be proven in a court of law. The lawyer reiterated Saud Aziz’s claims of innocence saying (i) his client had not ordered any police officer to leave the security of Benazir Bhutto’s cavalcade, (ii) the crime scene was washed only after the collection of evidence, and (iii) the order for not having an autopsy of the body was given by Asif Zardari, and not by his client.


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