Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been declared a fugitive from justice in the 2007 assassination of the country’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
An anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi made the ruling on Thursday, four years after the former general was indicted on charges of murder, criminal conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder.
Back then, the case was delayed due to Musharraf’s health complications. The former president left the country in 2016 to seek treatment and has been living in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, ever since.
As the country’s chief executive during Bhutto’s assassination, Musharraf has long been suspected of playing a role in the bomb and gun attack that killed the former PM and dozens of people who had attended one of her campaigning events.
The court also sentenced two former police officers to 17 years in prison and fined them $5,000 while acquitting five suspected extremists, a decision that drew fire from Aseefa B. Zardari, Bhutto’s daughter.
“10 years later and we still await justice. Abettors punished but those truly guilty of my mother’s murder roam free,” Zardari tweeted. “There will be no justice till Pervez Musharraf answers for his crimes!”
One of the police officers was convicted “of mishandling security at the Bhutto rally and the other of mishandling the crime scene,” after being accused of security breaches and covering up evidence by hosing down the crime scene.
The acquittals of the other suspects due to lack of evidence prompted anger from Bhutto’s Pakistan
Peoples Party (PPP), headed by her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
He called the decision “disappointing and unacceptable,” and said the party would “explore legal options.”
Senator Sherry Rehman, a member of the PPP, told CNN that while the police officers were convicted and the circle around General Musharraf had tightened “this is not enough.”
“Benazir was more than just a party; she meant so much to the Pakistani people,” said Rehman, who was a close friend of Bhutto’s.
“This verdict is disrespectful to her legacy. I was there when the evidence was washed away, when the authorities botched the investigation,” she added.
Shortly before her assassination, Bhutto had returned from an eight-year exile to run in the country’s general elections. She was killed while campaigning in Rawalpindi.
A 2010 UN report accused Musharraf’s government of failing to protect Bhutto and investigate “with vigor” the suspects of her murder.
In 2008, Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected as Pakistan’s president and served until 2013.