Approver Masood Mahmood leaves the Lahore High Court during the ZAB trial
Sunday, April 05, 2009
After declaring Martial Law on July 5, 1977, General Zia-ul-Haq addressed a press conference on July 14 and claimed that he had no intentions of any witch-hunting, as he would not stop anyone from going to the courts to take the politicians to task.
Who would know at that time that the general was working on a fixed agenda? Elimination of ZAB being the most popular leader was of utmost importance to the military junta and Zia ul Haq.
For the accomplishment of this task, the general knew that the support of the judiciary was crucial. Capital punishment through the military courts against him would raise protests of injustice the world over and could potentially backfire. Therefore, on the assumption of power, he cleverly inducted the chief justices of all the provincial high courts as acting governors of their provinces.
Maulvi Mushtaq Hussein was appointed as the acting chief justice of the Lahore High Court. Old files were re-opened and searches were made to find out something that would nail down the popular leader. The “re-filed case shortly after the coup” by Ahmed Raza Qasuri, (Pakistan- A Modern History by Ian Talbot) came in handy for the dictator. Although a high court inquiry under Justice Shafi-ur-Rahman had exonerated ZAB, but Zia was not to be deterred.
On Sept 3, 1977, ZAB was arrested. He was charged with conspiracy to murder Nawab Mohammed Ahmed Qasuri, the father of Ahmad Raza Qasuri, the alleged target in an assault on his car on 11 Nov 1974. But much to the chagrin of the general, ten days later Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was granted bail by Justice K M A Samdani of the Lahore High Court, as the case did not hold any legal ground. The general realized that from now on “he would also have to take on the task of meting out justice to his hated enemy by bringing him up for murder in his own reliable Martial Law court.” At the same time “Zulfi had been warned, upon his release from prison on 13 September that an order for his detention under some preventive law or Martial Law was being prepared.” (Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert).
Within three days ZAB’s bail was cancelled. On Sept 16 at night, army commandos arrested ZAB for never to be released again, on the same charges and sent to the Sukkur jail.
The justice who granted him bail was transferred back to the SHC and the courageously independent Chief Justice of Pakistan Yaqub Ali Khan was forced to retire. Only three days before his forced retirement, he had admitted Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s petition challenging the constitutionality of her husband’s detention.
Sheikh Anwar-ul-Haq was appointed as the Chief Justice of Pakistan on Sept 23, 1977. At this stage, Zia knew that any loophole could have jeopardized his grand scheme of imparting justice to his enemy.
The trial known as the Conspiracy to Murder against ZAB began on the October 24. Benazir Bhutto writes in her autobiography: “The case against my father rested primarily on the confession of Masood Mahmood, DG FSF who was arrested soon after the coup and who we had been told was tortured to give false evidence against my father. After almost two months of detention by the military, Masood Mahmood had decided to become an ‘approver’. Now Masood Mahmood was claiming that my father ordered him to murder Kasuri… There were no eye-witnesses
to the attack.” So much so that the “FSF guns, which the ‘confessing accused’ claimed to have used in the murder attempt did not match the empty cartridges found at the scene”.
Expecting a fair trial from a person like Maulvi Mushtaq was very much unlikely. The witnesses were briefed on what they should say” and favorable answers were deliberately whittled down. “At the end of the trial, not one of the objections raised or the contradictions in the evidence pointed out by the defence appeared in the record 706 pages of testimony.
As expected, Maulvi Mushtaq and his full bench found Zulfikar Ali Bhutto guilty of murder and sentenced him to death on March 18, 1978.
An appeal against the LHC’s decision was filed in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court bench consisted of nine judges, when the case started. But as the case prolonged Justice Qaiser Khan retired and Justice Wahiduddin got so sick that he could no longer remain on the bench. The expected majority was reduced to minority and the decision taken by the LHC was upheld by the Supreme Court by a margin of 4 to 3 in February 1979. The three judges who voted for Bhutto’s acquittal were Justice Dorab Patel of Balochistan, Justice Safder Shah of NWFP, and Justice Mohammed Halim of Sindh as they could not find any direct evidence for the conspiracy to murder.
While Justice Anwar-ul-Haq in his eight hundred pages dismissed all the errors and illegalities in the LHC’s trial as totally irrelevant to the verdict and confirmed the death sentence.
Zia-ul-Haq who was already calling the former president-prime minister a murderer while the case was still under trial, dismissed hundreds of clemency appeals from all the heads of the country and ordered for Bhutto’s execution.