RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: A Pakistani court Tuesday indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of iconic Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year in an effort to take part in elections.
The decision by a court in Rawalpindi marks the first time Musharraf, or any former army chief in Pakistan, has been charged with a crime.
Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and stepped down from office in disgrace nearly a decade later, now faces a litany of legal problems that have in many ways broken taboos on the inviolability of the once-sacrosanct military in Pakistani society.
He has been charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and facilitation for murder, said prosecutor Chaudry Muhammed Azhar.
The former army commando appeared in person during the brief morning hearing, and pleaded not guilty, said Afsha Adil, a member of Musharraf’s legal team.
Bhutto was killed in 2007 during a gun and bomb attack at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi, the sister city to the capital of Islamabad. Prosecutors have said Musharraf, who was president at the time, failed to properly protect her.
The judge set August 27 as the next court date to present evidence.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after nearly four years outside the country and vowed to take part in the country’s May elections. But he has little popular support in Pakistan and ever since his return has faced a litany of legal problems related to his rule.
He has been confined to his house on the outskirts Islamabad as part of his legal problems, and was brought to court Tuesday amid tight security.
In addition to the Bhutto case, Musharraf is involved in a case related to the 2007 detention of judges and the death of a Baluch nationalist leader.
He’s also faced threats from the Pakistani Taliban who tried to assassinate him twice while he was in office and vowed to try again if he returned.