Islamabad: A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Tuesday formally charged former military ruler Pervez Musharraf with involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
Musharraf denied the charges after the judge read out the indictment during a 20-minute hearing in the court in Rawalpindi on Tuesday. Media representatives were not allowed to enter the court located in the garrison city.
Six others, including two former senior police officers, were also indicted. The court fixed the next hearing for August 27.
The former army chief and president was brought to the court under tight security from his Islamabad farmhouse were he has been living under detention since the premises was declared a sub-jail by the authorities in April.
Prosecutors said he was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder. The former president was taken back to the farmhouse after the indictment.
Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack on December 27, 2007, while she was campaigning.
The general election held in February 2008 brought her Pakistan People’s Party to power. In the May elections this year, it was voted out and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party came to power.
Musharraf, who returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile earlier in March this year, to lead his political faction into the general election. But his candidature was rejected and a high court banned him for life from contesting election.
He is fighting a series of charges relating to his time in power from 1999 when he ousted then prime minister Nawaz Sharif from power until he stepped down in the middle of 2008 under threat of impeachment and left Pakistan.
The PML-N government intends to put Musharraf on trial for treason over suspension of the constitution and imposition of emergency by him in November 2007 when many judges of superior courts were also placed under detention.
Another anti-terrorism court based in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, on Monday ordered the authorities to present Musharraf before it on September 10 in connection with charges he was responsible for the killing of Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti in an army operation in 2006.
The Quetta court also issued arrest warrants for former prime minister Shaukat Aziz who held the chief executive’s office during Mushrraf regime and is now living abroad.
Tuesday’s indictment of a former army chief was unprecedented in Pakistan where the military has directly ruled for more than half of the country 66-year history. Musharraf wore dual hats as army chief and president concurrently for most of his over eight year hold on power.
During the rule of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) the Supreme Court in a verdict related to a case about doling out of money by ISI to politicians prior to 1990 elections had recommended that former army chief Mirza Aslam Beg be investigated in the matter for legal action under the law.
But there had been no follow-up action on the top court’s recommendation over manipulation of 1990 elections in which a combine of right wing parties defeated PPP and Nawa Shairf was elected prime minister.