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FIA to question Musharraf in Bhutto murder case

By Rezaul H Laskar
November 23, 2010 15:49 IST
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A 32-point questionnaire on alleged lapses in security for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto will be sent to Pervez Musharraf following the government's decision to include the former military ruler in the probe into her assassination, Pakistani officials have said.

A joint investigation team of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has prepared the questionnaire that will be sent to Musharraf, currently living in self-exile in Britain, in a few days, FIA chief Waseem Ahmed said. "We have prepared a questionnaire for the former president to record his statement... We want to record the statement of everybody who has any connection with the case," Ahmed told the Dawn newspaper.

The 32-point questionnaire has been sent to the Interior Ministry for approval. "After getting the approval, we will send it to Musharraf through both e-mail and by post," Ahmed said. Geo News channel had quoted its sources as saying that the questionnaire had already been sent to Musharraf, who has been living outside Pakistan since April last year.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the media that the FIA's Special Investigation Unit had sought permission to send the queries to Musharraf. Malik refused to comment on the contents of the questionnaire, saying the matter is sub-judice as an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi is conducting the trial of suspects arrested for alleged involvement in Bhutto's assassination. However, media reports said the questionnaire largely focussed on perceived "gross negligence" in the security provided by Musharraf's regime to Bhutto after her return to Pakistan from self-exile in October 2007.

The government's decision to include Musharraf in the investigation into Bhutto's assassination comes 35 months after she was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack after addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi in December 2008. Musharraf was neither nominated in the case nor made a part of any formal investigation so far.

"The FIA was ambivalent on including the former president's name in the investigations," a source was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune newspaper. Following requests from the Pakistan People's Party-led government, Britain's Scotland Yard and a UN commission had investigated the assassination. The UN panel's report had been highly critical of the security provided to Bhutto by Musharraf's regime.

The FIA's investigating team has also raised questions about reports that Musharraf had directed officials of the Interior Ministry to hold a press conference soon after Bhutto's assassination and to blame late Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud for her killing. Asked why Musharraf was being involved in the case after the investigating team had completed its report and submitted it to the anti-terrorism court, FIA chief Ahmed said the case would "remain open until all supplementary information is obtained."

Replying to a question on what the FIA would do if Musharraf did not reply to the questionnaire, Ahmed said: "It is too early to ask this question." Former Rawalpindi SP Ashfaq Anwar, who was Bhutto's security in-charge at the time of the gun-and-bomb attack that killed her, is reported to have confessed in court that adequate security arrangements could have averted the incident. But Musharraf's close aide and spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said the former president had nothing to do with Bhutto's security. He described the government's move to send the questionnaire to Musharraf as an attempt to politicise the case and damage him politically.

"The FIA should know that a Scotland Yard team which completed its investigation into the case had met Musharraf and recorded his statement," he said.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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