RAWALPINDI — A court in Pakistan charged former military dictator Pervez Musharraf today with the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto in an unprecedented move likely to anger the all-powerful army.
The indictment of the army chief who seized power in a 1999 coup — once Pakistan’s most powerful man — was almost an unthinkable event in a nuclear-armed country ruled by the military for half of its 66-year history.
Bhutto, a former prime minister, died in a suicide gun and bomb attack in December 2007 after a campaign rally in the city of Rawalpindi, not far from the heavily guarded court room where the charges were read out today.
“He should be tried,” the public prosecutor, Mohammad Azhar, told reporters after a brief hearing during which the three charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder were read out to Musharraf.
The case has shattered an unwritten rule that the top military brass are untouchable as the South Asian country tries to shake off the legacy of decades of military rule under the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
It was Musharraf who toppled Sharif’s government in the 1999 coup, and memories of that time are still fresh in the current administration. Sharif was sentenced to a life in jail by Musharraf but was eventually allowed to go into exile.
Security was tight in Rawalpindi — the seat of Pakistan’s military headquarters — after a previous hearing on August 6 was delayed due to threats to Musharraf’s life. The Pakistani Taliban have on many occasions threatened to kill him.
Hundreds of police were deployed along the main road leading to the court as well as on rooftops as Musharraf’s car arrived. Journalists were not allowed in the court room for the hearing which lasted about 20 minutes.
Musharraf, who turned 70 on August 11, made no public remarks as he arrived but denied all the charges against him once inside the court room, a lawyer from his defence team told Reuters.
“All the cases against Musharraf are fabricated. He denied all the charges,” said Afshan Adil, the lawyer. The next hearing was set for August 27. (Reuters)