With one year in power, her relations with the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the President of the country started cracking. Unfortunately, her spouse was again in the eye of storm. The Chief Justice, late Sajjad Ali Shah was appointed by her in supersession of at least two senior Judges – Ajmal Mian and Saeed-u-Zaman Siddiqui reportedly at the insistence of Asif Zardari. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as a member of the full bench of the Supreme hearing the petition against the dismissal of her first government, had given a dissenting judgment declaring the President’s act as unlawful while the remaining judges unanimously upheld the President’s dismissal of the government.
She appointed some known sympathizers of her party as judges in the superior courts without consulting the Chief Justice. Some senior lawyers filed petitions in the Supreme Court against the appointment of Judges which were heard by a bench headed by the Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. He passed a verdict declaring ‘meaningful consultations’ with the Chief Justice mandatory in the appointment of Judges and laid down the principle of seniority for the elevation of Judges to senior positions. Interestingly, his elevation as the Chief Justice was in violation of the principle of seniority which was later exploited by the Mr. Sharif in his second regime and sent him home unceremoniously. The judgment sealed the bonhomie between Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.
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President Farooq Leghari was receiving reports from different sources about the indulgence of Asif Zardari in massive corruption and kickbacks in lucrative contracts. The opposition under Mian Nawaz Sharif was relentlessly charging Mr. Zardari with the purchase of Surrey Palace and smuggling of antiques and artifacts for the decoration of the palace, kickbacks in the COTECNA. All these charges were troubling President Farooq Leghari, known for his financial propriety. He reportedly brought the complaints to the notice of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto urging her to sack him as the Minister of Investment. This was not enough to nudge Benazir Bhutto for confronting her spouse. This had compelled Mr. Khalid Hassan, a journalist, author and the former media aide of the Senior Bhutto to painfully conclude that she knew all about the corruption of her spouse and was complicit in it. Syeda Abida Hussain, a family friend of Bhuttos had also drawn the same conclusion in her autobiography.
Her home province – Sindh was in turmoil. Syed Abdullah Shah, picked up as Chief Minister on the recommendations of Asif Zardari was known to be his man. The Home Minister General Nasirullah Babar had continued the security operation in Karachi initiated by General Asif Nawaz Janjua and his southern Corps Commander General Nasir Akhtar. The security operation forced the militant activists of MQM to go underground or escape to India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Canada. Mr. Farooq Memon, a senior MQM leader admitted in a TV talk show that during this operation many of their activists escaped to India and were probably recruited there by the RAW.
The operation clean-up had rendered the Metropolis unsafe. The MQM and the provincial administration of Syed Abdullah Shah were embroiled in a bloody warfare in which many innocent people lost their lives. The burning of the bus fully loaded with Sindhi industrial laborers was not the singular instance of this bloodletting. The target killing of many police officers involved in the operation later in 1997 and the following years was a tragic ramification of this bloody operation.
Mr. Zardari was the de facto boss of the provincial administration with Syed Abdullah Shah showcased as the de jure Chief Minister. The province has been run in exactly the similar way from 2008 to this day by Mr. Zardari and Faryal Talpur with powerless Chief Ministers – Syed Qaim Ali Shah and his successor Murad Ali Shah. The interference of Mr. Asif Zardari in the political, economic and financial affairs of the federal government and the provincial administrations particularly of Sindh were circumventing Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s ability to give good governance as dictated by democratic norms and rule of law.
The political problems of Benazir Bhutto were further compounded when her brother, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, decided to return to Pakistan. He had already won in exile his provincial seat from Larkana city in the October elections. Benazir tried to persuade him to delay his return. But Murtaza returned to Pakistan in November 1993. He was arrested and lodged in Landhi Jail of Karachi. He was released in June 1994 when Justice Ali Ahmed Junejo granted him bail. He began organizing his faction of the PPP. He indulged in a tirade against Benazir charging her for secret deals with Zia ul Haq to go abroad in 1983 and return from her exile in April 1986. He moved in Karachi with armed bodyguards raiding police stations, misbehaving with senior police officers and freeing his party activists. He held Mr. Zardari squarely responsible for smearing the Bhuttos’ name by his massive corruption.
The bitter criticism of Murtaza against Benazir apart, what disturbed her the most was the growing animosity between her estranged brother and Asif Zardari. Sardar Farooq Leghari in his interview with Mr. Ishaq Khakwani in a Seraiki Television channel some months before his passing away revealed that he tried to mediate between Murtaza and Benazir. He met Benazir Bhutto. Mr. Zardari was also present. He told her that the quarrel between them was purely a case of political estrangement and could be resolved otherwise it would harm her more being the Prime Minister and that he could mediate to end this political antagonism. Before she could say anything, Mr. Asif Zardari retorted angrily that the things had reached a pass where either Mir or he (Zardari) would have to die.
The administration of Sindh, angered by Murtaza’s movements with armed guards in tow in the city, had sent reports to the federal Home Ministry showing serious concerns for law and order and reportedly had received go-ahead signals to disarm his bodyguards separating them from him so as not to cause any harm to his person in the ensuing melee. The police party led by SP Wajid Durrani, as claimed by Fatima Bhutto, confronted him near his home, 70 Clifton, on 20 September 1996 to disarm his guards. In the ensuing armed clash, Murtaza was fatally wounded while six of his bodyguards were killed. He succumbed to his injuries in the nearby clinic. Benazir was pulverized with grief but the damage had been done.
Given the grave situation emerging from this tragedy, President Farooq Leghari dismissed her government dissolving the National Assembly and provincial Assemblies on 6 November 1996. Asif Zardari was arrested and charged with corruption and the murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto. In his above interview, Sardar Farooq Leghari justified his drastic action saying that what he honestly felt was apparent attempts for cover-up of the tragic murder by federal government and the provincial administration. Mr. Zardari would remain incarcerated for a decade or so with Benazir shuttling between jail wards and courts with her small children in tow. Her patience and tenacity were indescribable. All along she never wavered in her belief in the superiority of legal and judicial process. After sometime, however, she decided to go into exile in Dubai to fight her political battle from there.
The most painful consequence of the second term of Benazir Bhutto was that she passed most of her tenure in unnecessary quarrels with her chosen Chief Justice; the President and her estranged brother stubbornly defending her spouse in the corruption allegations and his bitter feud with Murtaza. While abroad, she renewed contacts with her friends in Washington DC and Mian Nawaz Sharif who had wriggled out of his deal with General Musharraf to remain in exile in Saudi Arabia for ten years and was staying in London. She signed a Charter of Democracy with him. However, she was also in secret contact with General Musharraf who was being pressurized by his American and British benefactors to broaden his political base by cutting a deal with the PPP.
As a prelude to the proposed deal, Mr. Asif Zardari was set free and allowed to go abroad in 2006 after a long incarceration of some 10 years. For Benazir, the Surrey Palace and the Cotecna cases in London and Switzerland were proving nightmarish as the courts were about to deliver adverse verdicts. She cut a deal with President Musharraf in haste. The deal was formalized by the National Reconciliation Ordinance issued by the General giving relief to all and sundry in corruption and criminal cases. The Attorney General of Pakistan wrote a letter to the courts abroad to drop the cases against Benazir and Asif Zardari that also included the famous case of her costly necklace bought from a high street in London, the proceedings of which were claimed by Mr. Zardari after her tragic assassination.
According to the deal, as claimed by General Musharraf, she was supposed to return after the general elections scheduled in January 2008. After the NRO and the closure of the cases, she decided to return to Pakistan on 18 October 2007 ignoring the protestations of the General and warnings of life security threats. Her first caravan was attacked by terrorists on the same day. She miraculously escaped unhurt. We could imagine that the angel of death was pursuing her like her shadow. In the last leg of her election campaign, she addressed a public meeting in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007. All went well. As she was leaving the venue, crowds of charged PPP workers were raising slogans. She stood up to wave to them. Her assassins, waiting in the wings, found this moment opportune to strike. There were a few gun shots followed by a powerful explosion. She slumped in the car in the lap of Naheed Khan with blood gushing out of her neck. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors tried vainly to revive her. She had already succumbed to her neck injury and excessive blood loss. This iconic Bhutto lady met her tragic destiny like her father and two brothers.
(To be continued)
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