By Rafia Zakaria
March 4th, 2015
EVERYONE in Pakistan remembers the feverish, frantic moments when they heard the news of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination seven years ago. The intersection of national tragedy with personal reality — where one was, what one was doing — was hence etched into the collective and individual memory, a marker of what happened before and a question of what would come after.
But while the parade of national catastrophe has continued since that December of 2007, presenting a surfeit of tragic landmarks with which to calibrate the country’s history, very little truth has emerged regarding what actually happened on that particular day and to that particular woman. What did emerge were a number of conspiracy theories many of which have still not been put to rest.
Last Thursday reintroduced a possibility that was first raised some years ago. In a hearing on the case held in an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, two witnesses appeared; one was Federal Investigation Agency inspector Naseer Ahmed and the other sub-inspector Adnan. In their testimony before the anti-terrorism court of Justice Pervez Ismail, the officials said that students from the Darul Uloom Haqqania, a seminary located in Akora, Khattak, had been involved in the murder.
To counter their assertions, the director of education of the seminary, Wisal Ahmed, also appeared before the court. In his testimony, Ahmed asserted that while the suspected suicide bombers Abdullah alias Saddam, Nadir alias Qari Ismail and the arrested suspects Rasheed alias Turabi and Faiz Muhammad had been educated at the madrasa, there had not been any institutional involvement of the seminary in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case. Some of the suspects, he asserted, had left the seminary even before they had completed their education.
Even beyond Pakistan’s borders, conclusive answers to several high-level assassinations are still missing.
Even if this theory is not an altogether new one, its re-emergence once again focuses on the apparent impossibility of solving the assassination case — so many years after the event we keep guessing about the identity of the perpetrators. Soon after the murder of Benazir Bhutto, statements by the government of then president Pervez Musharraf had asserted that the culprit was Baitullah Mehsud, then chief of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who was later killed in a drone strike.
To prove the point, a telephonic conversation featuring an alleged exchange between a triumphant Baitullah Mehsud accepting congratulations for the attack was released. To a large section of the watching, listening Pakistani public, it seemed to make sense: the banned TTP are hardly friendly towards Pakistan’s women; it would not be a stretch to imagine them killing Pakistan’s most eminent female leader in a brazen attack at a crowded rally.
Heraldo Munoz, then assistant secretary general at the UN who headed a UN commission of inquiry on the case, was less eager to buy this initial explanation. In his book Getting Away with Murder, Munoz narrated that Gen Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s former army chief, had also expressed his reservations regarding the possibility of a Taliban connection to the assassination.
That was not Munoz’s only conundrum; he also pointed to the inexplicable detail that, owing to instructions from the family, no autopsy was ever performed on the slain former prime minister. Because of this, no definitive cause of death has been available in the investigation.
Furthermore, Munoz’s investigation also revealed that the black Mercedes car that was assigned to Bhutto’s security detail on Dec 27, one that was supposed to rescue her in case of an untoward incident, had also mysteriously disappeared and failed to show up. Instead, the SUV in which Bhutto had been travelling (and which had three blown tyres) continued to try and drive the severely injured leader to a hospital and away from the scene of the bombing.
We may know little else, but we do know that the effort to save her life did not succeed. Benazir Bhutto died that day. And the theories that followed the tragic event did not discount the involvement of either the state under Gen Musharraf or even the assassinated leader’s own security detail, and relatives. The washing down of evidence at the scene of crime did not help instil trust in the investigation process.
Into this mire of speculation and unanswered questions the possibility of institutional involvement of the Darul Uloom Haqqania has been raised once again. Like the other “facts” that have periodically emerged in the case, it may well be a theory that is bolstered by circumstance.
Truth and assassination are perhaps two eternally disparate phenomena, whose paths rarely if ever encounter justice. This is true not only of the Benazir Bhutto murder case, but of similar incidents that came long before and will likely come after. In Pakistan’s history there is no explanation yet of the plane crash that killed Gen Ziaul Haq in 1988, or the bullet that took the life of Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan and years later the murder of Benazir Bhutto.
Beyond Pakistan’s borders, similar conundrums exist. For instance, the law enforcement in the United States may have apprehended Lee Harvey Oswald, the shooter of president John F. Kennedy, but theories proliferate as to who really inspired him to kill the American leader. It is unfortunate that in politics, being sentenced to death by assassination has often meant a condemnation to eternal mystery and speculation as borne out by examples in many parts of the world.
History, and consequently the truth, it is said, is written by the victors; but the question of who will dominate in Pakistan’s war against extremism does not yet have an answer, or a winner. The question of who killed Benazir Bhutto, the intractability, even the impossibility of truth and justice, reflects this very tussle and its uncharted outcome. The shifting of blame, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, the posturing of speculation as substance are all skirmishes in the larger battle of constructing the country’s narrative against extremism, one whose heroes are much yearned for but not yet known.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.