Today marks the 10th death anniversary of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi on 27 December, 2007. All these years, multiple versions have been doing the rounds, which go into the details of who might have been behind the assassination of Benazir. Now, a detailed investigative report by The Dawn – a newspaper in Pakistan – has shed light on some important factors on how the assassination of Benazir was carried out.
Ziad Zafar, an investigative journalist, has explored the evidence unearthed during the investigation into Benazir’s assassination. Apart from linking the assassination to Osama Bin Laden and other senior Al-Qaeda leader, the report also makes one startling link to Benazir’s assassination with the mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The report briefly mentions about the arrest of Major Haroon Ashiq in February 2009, two years after Bhutto’s assassination. Major Haroon, an influential Al Qaeda strategist and ideologue in the organisation’s history, was a former Special Services Group (SSG) commando, who deserted the Pakistan army after 2001 and joined hands with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Interestingly, Major Haroon, as mentioned in the report, had also been one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks in 2008, which claimed more than 180 lives. Major Haroon, involved in many other terrorist attacks in Pakistan, however, had denied being involved in the assassination of Benazir.
“During the interrogation”, The Dawn reports, “Major Haroon told that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was ordered by Osama bin Laden and that Baitullah Mehsud, the former Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) chief, had been tasked to carry out the plan. Major Haroon also claimed the emissary between Bin Laden and Mehsud was a militant called Abu Obaidah Al Masri who was in charge of Al Qaeda’s Pakistan operation.”
According to the report, Major Haroon also admitted that the information about a possible link between Osama Bin Laden and the assassination of Benazir was given to him by Ilyas Kashmiri. Kashmiri, also a former Special Service Group officer in Pakistan Army, had surged through jihadi ranks to become one of Bin Laden’s closest lieutenants and was also tipped by US counterterrorism experts to replace him as the leader of Al Qaeda after the Abbottabad raid in which Bin Laden was killed.
Both, Ilyas Kashmiri and Major Haroon, were believed to be the principal architects of the Mumbai attacks and had earlier worked closely on a number of operations. Major Haroon, according to the report, had also made a confession in which he confirmed that an earlier assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto on October 18th was also masterminded by Abu Obaidah al Masri and was carried out through Baitullah Mehsud’s men. The same network succeeded in assassinating Bhutto two months later in Rawalpindi.
Major Haroon is currently incarcerated in a special security block in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, where he is considered one of the most fearsome inmates in the prison.
The report also mentions the most crucial piece of evidence linking Al Masri to the assassination. The evidence was recovered from Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad after the raid. According to the report, the document contains a “memo delivered to Bin Laden just two days after the assassination”. The memo from Al Masri, delivered via courier, refers to the ‘special task’ and informs Bin Laden of the successful “operation in ‘Pindi” (read Rawalpindi), confirming it was his men who murdered Benazir. The memo read: “More good is to come in revenge for our brothers and sisters in Hafsa and Lal mosques.”
Earlier, General Parvez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan, had been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder in relation to the Benazir’s case. Prosecutors had said that Musharraf had phoned Benazir Bhutto in Washington on 25 September, three weeks before she ended eight years in self-imposed exile, warning her not to return to Pakistan.
Later in 2017, a year after Musharraf slipped out of Pakistan, an anti-terrorism court declared him as being an "absconder" in the case. Musharraf was accused of conspiring to kill Bhutto because he perceived her a potential threat to his rule.
All these years, Musharraf has strongly denied making the call and had dismissed allegations that he would have ordered the assassination of Benazir.
Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first democratically elected prime minister. His political career was also brought to a premature end when he was hanged by the military regime of General Zia-ul Haq. Benazir went on to become prime minister twice in the 1990s, but she was always distrusted by the military, which used corruption allegations to remove her from power. At the time of her death she was making a bid for a third term as prime minister. The assassination had caused widespread civil unrest in Pakistan.
Edited by Sheikh Saaliq