Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By DECLAN WALSH
Published: May 3, 2013MULTAN, Pakistan — Gunmen on Friday fatally shot a Pakistani prosecutor who had been investigating the murder of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Assailants opened fire on the prosecutor, Chaudhry Zulfikar Ali, as he drove to work from his home in a suburb of the capital, Islamabad, for a court hearing in which the former military leader, Pervez Musharraf, faces charges in relation to Ms. Bhutto’s death in 2007. Initial reports said that gunmen traveling by motorbike and car sprayed Mr. Ali’s car with bullets, lightly wounding his bodyguard and killing a woman who was passing by when his car veered out of control. Television footage from the scene showed a bullet-riddled car crashed by the roadside.Mr. Ali died before he reached a hospital in Islamabad, where a doctor said he had been shot 13 times. The police said that Mr. Ali’s bodyguard returned fire and managed to wound one of the attackers. The attackers then fled the scene.There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack and the police said it was too early to comment on a possible motive. But few doubted it was linked to Mr. Ali’s work as a state prosecutor in some of the most sensitive cases in the country, and his death reinforced the vulnerability of senior government officials who challenge Islamist militants and other powerful interests.
Mr. Ali represented the Federal Investigation Agency, which has implicated Mr. Musharraf in the death of Ms. Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007, just before the last election. But he was also involved in another sensitive case: the trial of seven people from the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba who have been charged with orchestrating the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, which killed more than 160 people.
Mr. Ali was to appear in both cases this week. After the previous hearing in the Bhutto case on April 30, Mr. Ali told reporters he had “solid evidence” that connected Mr. Musharraf with Ms. Bhutto’s death.
Since Mr. Musharraf’s return from exile in March, investigators have questioned him about the security arrangements for Ms. Bhutto in 2007.Rehman Malik, an aide to Ms. Bhutto and a former interior minister, has accused Mr. Musharraf of failing to provide Ms. Bhutto with adequate security. Mr. Musharraf has denied those accusations and insisted that, as head of state, he was not involved in administrative matters.
Mr. Ali was scheduled to appear in court on Saturday for a hearing in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Seven members of the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba have been on trial since 2009. They are accused of orchestrating the slaughter from Pakistan, and one of the defendants is the group’s operational leader, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi. But the hearings have been characterized by opacity and a lethargic pace.
The trial is taking place at Adila jail in Rawalpindi, ostensibly on security grounds, and the media is barred from proceedings. Hearings have been repeatedly adjourned because of the absence of lawyers or the presiding judge. Currently, defense lawyers are cross-examining the prosecution witnesses.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was founded with help from the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s spy agency, in the 1990s, and its presumed leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, lives openly in the eastern city of Lahore. The spy agency says it has cut all links with the group.Mr. Ali’s death comes at a sensitive time, with Pakistanis scheduled to go to the polls for a general election on May 11. Campaigning has been marred by widespread Taliban violence against candidates from secular parties.
Although Islamabad suffered a number of militant attacks in 2008 and 2009, it has escaped major violence in recent years. But several prominent figures have been assassinated on its streets, including the former governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseeer, and a minister for religious affairs.Mr. Musharraf, who returned from exile to contest the election last month, faces charges in several cases related to his time in power, including the murder of Ms. Bhutto, the killing of a Baloch nationalist leader, and the firing of senior judges.Mr. Musharraf, a retired general, has been disqualified from contesting the election, and earlier this week a court banned him from politics for life. He also faces possible treason charges.In the court hearing in nearby Rawalpindi, lawyers for Mr. Musharraf argued that he should be exempted from appearing in person in the case, Pakistani television stations reported. The hearing was adjourned until May 14.