Pakistan's former military leader Pervez Musharraf was formally charged by a court on Tuesday with murdering Benazir Bhutto, the ex-prime minister who was assassinated at a political campaign rally in 2007.
While Musharraf is no longer favored by the army and also hated by the judiciary, it is important to realize that speaking in strictly legal terms, it will be extremely difficult to find any definite proof that links the 70-year old ex-President to the murder itself.
In a short 20-minute hearing in Rawalpindi, Musharraf was charged with murder, conspiracy to murder, and facilitation of murder. The indictment adds to his woes. His return to the country has turned his personal and political life into a living nightmare. The Pakistani Taliban, the TTP, released a video days after his return stating clearly that they planned to assassinate him. He is also charged with the killing of a Baloch militant leader in an army operation and most seriously, of treason.
Musharraf is a hated figure within the judiciary, and may struggle to receive a fair trial. The enmity dates from 2007 when top judges were put under house arrest and the chief justice was fired after he declared emergency rule across the country.
Yet, in a court of law, only definite evidence rather than circumstantial and speculative accusations can legally convict Musharraf of being involved in the assassination of Bhutto. While in office when the attack on Bhutto took place, his government blamed the TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud for the murder.
The first piece of information that ties Musharraf to the murder is an e-mail Benazir wrote to her long-time friend, U.S. lobbyist and journalist Mark Siegel. She said that if she were killed, Musharraf would bear some of the blame. She cited his government's denial of her request for additional security measures after the October suicide bombing that targeted her upon returning to Pakistan from exile.
She wrote, "Nothing will, God willing happen. Just wanted u to know if it does in addition to the names in my letter to Musharaf of Oct 16nth, I wld hold Musharaf responsible. I have been made to feel insecure by his minions and there is no way what is happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides cld happen without him."
Regardless of what really happened, the e-mail and the accusations of not providing adequate security to Bhutto, on their own, will be difficult to induce a conviction accusing Musharraf of direct involvement. The charge of not providing adequate security will be difficult to verify and give plenty of room for Musharraf’s legal team to refute with evidence to the contrary.
Furthermore, finding a direct, irrefutable link between Musharraf and the assassination itself (i.e., his approval, backing, or funding) will prove to be an extremely difficult task for the prosecution.
Despite his dubious behavior, questionable actions, failed policies, and significant hatred in the public and judicial communities, if Musharraf is given a fair trial, the current evidence against him will not prove enough to convict him of a crime as grave as murder.