A Pakistani court indicted Pervez Musharraf in the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, escalating legal challenges to the ex-military dictator since he ended his self-exile in March.
Charges were read out to Musharraf that he was complicit in Bhutto’s killing as he failed to provide adequate security at a political rally she was attending, public prosecutor Chaudhary Mohammad Azhar told reporters after a brief court appearance by the former general.
“Musharraf was charged for murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation of murder,” Azhar said. “He denied the charges.” Six other people were also indicted and the hearing was adjourned till Aug. 27, state-run Pakistan Television reported, citing court proceedings.
Musharraf, who returned to Pakistan in an unsuccessful bid to contest May’s parliament election, is also facing possible prosecution over his suspension of the country’s constitution toward the end of his rule and the death of a Baluch separatist leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti. He has been kept under house arrest in Islamabad since his arrest April 19.
The former president was brought to a special anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, near the capital, under tight security as he faced threats to his life, a defense lawyer, Afshan Adil, said outside the court. Musharraf survived at least four assassination attempts by Islamic extremists while in power from 1999 to 2008.
The former army chief seized power after overthrowing the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a 1999 coup and stepped down as president in 2008 to avoid impeachment charges. He left Pakistan and lived mainly in London and Dubai for more than four years.
Bidding for a political comeback, Musharraf vowed to fight the election that brought Sharif back to power in May, only to be barred from standing by poll officials citing his emergency decree of 2007.
Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack at a rally in Rawalpindi in December 2007. A United Nations report, released in 2010, said her death may have been prevented had security forces taken proper steps after death threats were made against her.
Musharraf’s administration said former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud ordered Bhutto’s murder after she criticized the Taliban for terrorist attacks in Pakistan and announced she would help the U.S. eliminate the group.
The Pakistani chief prosecutor investigating the Bhutto case was shot dead May 3 by unidentified gunmen in Islamabad while he was heading for a hearing.