AP: Pakistan's Musharraf charged in Bhutto killing

Aug. 20, 2013 @ 12:20 PM

A Pakistani court on Tuesday indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of iconic Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year to make a political comeback.

The decision by a court in Rawalpindi marks the first time Musharraf, or any former army chief in Pakistan, has been charged with a crime.

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and stepped down from office in disgrace nearly a decade later, now faces a litany of legal problems that have in many ways broken taboos on the inviolability of the once-sacrosanct military in Pakistani society. He is currently under house arrest in connection with one of the cases against him.

The retired general was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and facilitation for murder, said prosecutor Chaudhry Muhammed Azhar. He did not specify what exactly Musharraf was accused of doing but prosecutors have previously accused him of failing to provide enough protection to Bhutto.

Under Pakistan's legal system he had previously been arrested on accusations he played a role in the assassination but Tuesday's legal proceedings mark the first time the government has formally charged him with a specific crime in Bhutto's slaying.

The former army commando appeared in person during the brief morning hearing Tuesday and pleaded not guilty, said Afshan Adil, a member of Musharraf's legal team.

"These are all fabricated cases. There is nothing solid in all these case," she said.

Bhutto was killed in 2007 during a gun and bomb attack at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi, the sister city to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The daughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1977 after being deposed in a coup, she was respected in Pakistan for her political commitment — she was jailed multiple times — and her condemnation of militancy and support for Pakistan's poor. But her terms were marred by accusations of widespread corruption against both her and her husband.

She returned to Pakistan under a deal with Musharraf allowing her to take part in upcoming elections, and his supporters point to the deal as proof that he had no objections to her return.

Her assassination set off a wave of protests across the country and helped propel her Pakistan People's Party to office and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to the presidency.

A 2010 U.N. report on the circumstances surrounding her death was highly critical of steps taken by investigators, including the hosing down of the crime scene, the failure to perform an autopsy and their media conference the day after in which they blamed a Taliban commander.

The report also said Musharraf failed to make serious efforts to ensure Bhutto's safety. His supporters have dismissed the report's findings.

The judge set August 27 as the next court date to present evidence.