On 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated soon after she had addressed an election rally in the historic Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. She was reportedly killed by a 15-year-old suicide bomber identified later as Bilal. Eleven years after the assassination of the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim country, her killers are yet to face justice.
Naheed Khan, who was political advisor to Benazir Bhutto as a well as a former parliamentarian and was with her in the same vehicle which was targeted by the suicide bomber, recounts the incident: “She hugged and kissed me after the successful election rally in Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi. It was one of her best speeches where she spoke on all aspects. She talked about restoration of peace in the Swat valley, the rule of law, foreign policy and future strategy on leading Pakistan. Suddenly she whispered in my ear. ‘Naheed, can you see something over there in between those two trees?’ She was referring to the trees around the exit gate, from where she would leave. I told her, “There is nothing over there.” She smiled and said would consult an ophthalmologist later”.
Usually she would sit in the corner of the vehicle but on that fateful evening she asked for the middle seat, says Naheed Khan. There was complete joy everywhere, people surrounded her vehicle and Pakistan People’s Party [Benazir Bhutto’s political party] workers were chanting ‘Long lives Pakistan, Long live Bhuttos’. Then she took the mega phone in her hand, opened the sunroof of the vehicle and took to her feet, emerging above shoulders out of the vehicle and started waving at the supporters.
“It was at this moment that I heard the first gunshot and which was followed by a huge bang. She fell and slumped in my lap,” says Naheed Khan. “Her blood was oozing. I tried to stop it by placing my shawl but in vain. The driver tried his best to take her to the nearby Central hospital in time [now Benazir Bhutto hospital] on burst tires but on arrival the doctor said, ‘I am sorry’.”
“When she fell, her eyes were closed. I would say the guy who fired was highly trained and knew exactly where to hit. This was a very well-coordinated attack, which deprived us of our visionary leader,” Said Naheed Khan. “She was killed by the bullet and not the bomb.”
Shafqat Malik is the head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bomb disposal unit. He agrees with Naheed Khan’s claim. “We collected the basic information within half an hour. She was killed by gunfire as there were a bunch of people sitting in the same vehicle, and all remained unhurt,” he said.
Malik also assisted the United Nations and Scotland Yard teams investigating Benazir Bhutto’s killing. “Both teams couldn’t find any other evidence other than what I gathered with my naked eyes,” says Malik proudly.
Benazir Bhutto was a visionary leader. She was a global figure. There is a void created by her sudden departure, which is huge disaster for the Pakistani politics, says Naheed Khan. Unfortunately, politicians are now just accusing each other, instead of thinking about the development of the country.
“While she was alive there used to be a slogan, “Charon Soobun ke Zanjeer-Benazir-Benazir” [Binding force of all the four provinces! Benazir! Benazir] but now it seems all political parties have become regional entities, enjoying popularity at provincial or regional level only, she added.
During her death anniversary, hundreds of people gathered at Liaqat Bagh, the place she was shot dead, to pay their respects. “I feel like an orphan and can’t forget the deadliest incident which snatched our leader from us,” says Sheikh Mujahid Hameed Bughdadi. He too was hit by splinters of the bomb and uses a support stick to walk.
“I came to the rally along with my two daughters who are diehard supporters of the PPP. But after that tragedy they are in complete shock and trauma,” he said. Bughdadi visits the place almost every day, where he lights up a candle in front of Benazir’s big portraits. “We want justice and need to know who killed our visionary leader,” said Bughdadi.
Former President and military dictator, Pervez Musharrf, was blamed for the killing of Benazir. Her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari accused Musharraf for exploiting the entire situation to kill his mother. A court has also charged Musharraf with murder but he denies the allegations. Musharraf’s government had then blamed the Pakistani Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud, for the deadliest attack, who was later killed in a US drone strike in August 2009.
Last September, five other alleged militants involved in Benazir’s assassination, were acquitted by the court stating procedural errors in the way the evidence was gathered. However, they are still in detention.
Naheed Khan says, “it seems she was aware that something bad was going to happen to her soon. A few days before the assassination she visited the mausoleum of her father. Usually, she would just offer prayers at his grave and return. But on that fateful day she turned the other way, explains Naheed Khan. She asked for all of the deceased who were buried there and told the caretaker to do the necessary repair work of the graves. Suddenly she asked one of the party leaders as she stood close to her father’s grave, [Where she is buried now] as to when will the restoration work of the shrine be complete as after all she had to be buried as well?
“Then someone asked her to come to Larkana, her hometown, to celebrate the birthday of her father, Zulifqar Ali Bhutto. [January 05] Benazir replied, ‘I don’t think I will be alive to witness that day,’ recalls Naheed Khan”.
Eleven years after her assassination, Benazir’s killers are still at large despite various national and international inquiries. Naheed Khan says, whoever killed her, they were facilitated by our own people. I think she is no one’s priority and “for this history will never forgive us”. She said, Benazir Bhutto was a ray of hope for the poor. She never approved the extreme ideology to run over the country and to me she had fulfilled her promise, to live and die for Pakistan,” concluded Naheed Khan.