AP reported that Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court issued an arrest warrant today for Pervez Musharraf and his alleged role in the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf devotees appear unable to come grips with the fact that the former president may have been complicit in the assassination. We are told that the indictment represents a prophylactic measure by Asif Zardari to quell an ascendant political threat. It must be noted, however, that precisely the same facile argument may be leveled against Musharraf, namely that he engineered the assassination because he regarded Bhutto as a direct challenge to his political supremacy. The many desperate measures Musharraf resorted to near the end of his reign, including suspending the constitution and “sacking” the judiciary, indicate that Musharraf was willing to use any means at his disposal to retain power. Moreover, a preliminary investigation by an independent UN panel found that, at a minimum, Musharraf failed to provide the late Prime Minster with adequate police protection and deliberately obstructed subsequent efforts to gather evidence. In addition, although the Pakistan Taliban are widely believed to be directly responsible for the murder, successive Pakistani governments have a long history of providing covert support to the most extreme religious elements in Pakistan and its surrounding region, as reported by Ahmed Rashid, Selig Harrison, and others.
My belief is that it is wrong to engage in baseless conjecture and prejudge the outcome of this (or any other) prosecution. It may well turn out that Musharraf will be vindicated. While far from perfect, Pakistan’s judiciary is undoubtedly the least corrupt entity within the Pakistani government and, as such, perfectly capable of conducting a fair and impartial trial; based on the reports I’ve read, it does not appear that there were any irregularities in the procedural process leading up to this prosecution. By contrast, the executive, legislative, and military arms of the state have shown themselves to be wanting in basic integrity at every turn. No doubt, Zardari is a thoroughly corrupt politician in his own right. Nevertheless, the fact that this indictment was brought more than two years after the assassination does not necessarily suggest that Zardari contrived the allegation to suppress a rising political threat. The nature of Pakistani bureaucracy and the fact that this high-profile assassination required careful investigation would have made a swift indictment impossible. Moreover, had Musharraf been charged immediately, loyalists would have maintained that the indictment came so close on the heels of the murder that it could not have possibly been founded on credible evidence.
Before becoming public defense attorneys for Musharraf, Pakistanis should remember that there is overwhelming, and indeed irrefutable, evidence that Musharraf committed grave human rights crimes against his own people, including extra-judicial killings of political dissidents; that he may have been involved in a criminal conspiracy against Bhutto does not defy reason. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the two most prominent, independent, and professional human rights groups in the world, have produced carefully researched reports regarding Musharraf’s role in perpetrating human rights crimes, including “enforced disappearances” of ethnic minorities in Balochistan and elsewhere:
- PAKISTAN: DENYING THE UNDENIABLE: ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES IN PAKISTAN— AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
- PAKISTAN: SEPARATISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS—HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
It is a shame that virtually every issue in Pakistani politics inevitably becomes the object of conspiracy theory and political maneuvering. If Pakistan ever hopes to move toward a direction of collective integrity, it must start at the civilian level where entrenched loyalties do not dictate one’s position on matters of grave social, political, and moral import.