Friday, April 1, 2011

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, on Friday asked the supreme court to review the controversial death sentence which led to the 1979 hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was prime minister and father of his late wife.

Analysts warned that the case could reopen old divisions in a country which has hovered between periods of military rule and short-lived democracies, and is struggling to unite in the face of an islamist insurgency.

Leaders of Mr Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said he may be seeking to strengthen his position as leader of the PPP, founded by the late Mr Bhutto. Many PPP activists were imprisoned and tortured in a well-documented reign of terror unleashed during General Zia ul-Haq’s eleven-year military dictatorship.

After Mr Bhutto’s hanging, he PPP was led by Benazir Bhutto, Mr Bhutto’s elder daughter who went on to marry Mr Zardari in 1987. Ms Bhutto was assassinated in a terrorist attack in December 2007.

“There is a historic wrong which we are trying to set right. There is no other purpose behind this decision” said Farhatullah Babar, Mr Zardari’s spokesman. But analysts warned that reopening the controversial case will expose the divisions that ran deep in the past.

“This move will go down as a stark reminder of the way the army has been so blatantly unfair, unjust and harsh with politicians in the past,” said Talat Masood, a commentator and retired lieutenant-general.

Others detected a ploy to divert attention away from economic challenges that have made the government increasingly unpopular. “There could be an element of seeking to divert attention,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political commentator.

But historians argue that it is important for Pakistan to come to terms with its past in order to consolidate current democratic rule.

Victoria Schofield, a British expert who watched Mr Bhutto’s appeal against his death sentence said that “Bhutto himself had no confidence in his trial and that’s why he never brought in a formal defence”.

She said the only thing that linked Bhutto to the actual conspiracy to murder a political foe, for which he was tried, was an individual who said in court that Bhutto “told him on the phone to murder this man...otherwise, there was no clear evidence against Bhutto”. A split verdict followed the appeal, with three judges ruling in his favour while four upheld the death sentence.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.


Post a Comment