interview Amir Mir whose book The Bhutto Murder Trail is catching attention, says that the killers of Benazir Bhutto may never be brought to book

A mir Mir is among the more identifiable Pakistani names and faces for Indian readers. His uncanny knack for reading between the lines and his quest to find the truth has been a fine ally in his journalistic and literary career. His works “The True Face of Jehadis”, “The Fluttering Flag of Jehad” and “Talibanisation of Pakistan” have established him as a man blessed with rare analytical acumen. Having just authored “The Bhutto Murder Trail: From Waziristan to GHQ” – brought out by Tranquebar – Mir, on a trip to northern region of Pakistan, answers questions with the same candour that marks his book.

Liaquat Ali Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Mujibur Rehman have all fallen prey to violence. Was Benazir Bhutto's decision to return to Pakistan and contest elections more reckless than brave? I ask this as she was aware of animosity at the highest level, as she disclosed to you in a private chat.

No, I don't think her comeback decision was a reckless one. To tell the truth, she was a woman of immense personal courage and bravery. Knowing well the threats to her life, she risked her life to win democracy in Pakistan. Hardly 24 hours before she was assassinated in Rawalpindi, her husband, Asif Zardari, had begged her on the phone from the UAE to stop holding election rallies and let him take her place. Zardari had called her after a suicide bomber was caught at the venue of the Peshawar public meeting she had addressed on 26 December 2007. Benazir writes in her book, “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West”, When I returned, I did not know whether I would live or die. I knew that the same elements of Pakistani society that had colluded to destroy my father and end democracy in Pakistan in 1977 were now arrayed against me for the same purpose exactly 30 years later. But I knew that those who believed in democracy and my leadership were awaiting me in the streets of Karachi.

Exactly a year after her murder, her husband Asif Zardari went on record saying that he knew who were responsible for the killing. What has prevented him from revealing the names?

I have raised this question in my book. I seriously doubt if her killers will ever be brought to book. Although UN Inquiry Commission's report into her assassination, released in April 2010, stopped short of naming Musharraf as the Bhutto killer, it did go much further than anyone could have imagined in blaming him and giving broad hints about his role in the security lapses that paved the way for her assassination. According to official circles, the problem is that the main suspect in the Bhutto murder, Musharraf, was allowed to leave the country under an unannounced deal sponsored by the Americans and brokered by Army Chief General Kiyani, under which the former dictator was given a safe passage and immunity from any type of prosecution by none other than Zardari, who succeeded Musharraf as the President.

More than three years after her death, and constant probes, there are so many angles to her murder that have not been explored. Will the masterminds of Benazir Bhutto's murder be ever brought to justice?

The three-year extension granted to the Army chief is a reminder of the limits of the civilian government. Kayani continues to call the shots since Musharraf's exit, and will continue to do so for the next three years.

Therefore, the PPP government won't be able to proceed against either Musharraf or any of his former associates who are suspected of involvement in the Bhutto murder. Musharraf is already well beyond the reach of the Pakistani authorities.

You quote a Hong Kong newspaper report wherein al-Qaeda has taken responsibility for her killing. Then obviously, the ‘disclosure' has too many loopholes. Does not the anti-Shia stance deserve to be at least taken into consideration?

First of all, let me clarify that Benazir Bhutto was not a Shia Muslim, unlike her husband Asif Zardari. Nor was Benazir's father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto a Shia, although his wife, Nusrat Bhutto, was because of her Iranian descent. Both senior Bhutto and Benazir were Sunni Muslims, as are her three children, Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa. However, it remains a fact that two of Pakistan's most lethal al-Qaeda linked militants groups have strong anti-Shia sentiments.

The responsibility claim of the Bhutto murder was made by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Yazid, stating that the death squad consisted of the Punjabi associates of the anti-Shia Pakistani militant organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), operating under al-Qaeda's orders.

The authenticity of such a claim was questionable also because of the fact that al-Qaeda never claims responsibility for its successful strikes so fast (within 48 hours in this case) and that too through telephone calls. al-Qaeda and pro-al-Qaeda Pakistani jehadi organisations usually do not specify the ethnicity of a Muslim. For them, a Muslim is a Muslim.

Benazir was regarded as crucial to democracy in Pakistan. Could it not have been that her opponents were also scared of democracy, and she seemed the most obvious hurdle in their path? In some ways, she ended up sacrificing her life for the sake of democracy in her nation?

Very true! I would like to quote Benazir's last speech which she had delivered on October 18at the Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi. She said: “It is no longer important if I become the prime minister for the third time. What is important is that I have risked my life while coming back; but I had to return because my country is in danger. I feel that the people are concerned about the state of the country under a dictator. That is why I have returned home.”

Finally, will actual democracy ever have a fair run in Pakistan ?

I believe democracy can surely work in Pakistan and I am certain of it.

ZIYA US SALAM

More In: METRO PLUS | FEATURES