Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, prosecutor over Benazir Bhutto assassination, murdered in Pakistan

Ali was gunned down in Islamabad’s G9 area this morning as he drove to a court hearing for the Bhutto case.

Five years after Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated as she campaigned in 2007, the prosecutor investigating her murder has been murdered, on the eve of another election.

Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali was gunned down in Islamabad’s G9 area this morning as he drove to a court hearing for the Bhutto case. His car was besieged by bullets, which were fired by two unidentified gunmen on motorbikes. According to doctors, he was killed by ten bullets in his chest and shoulder. He was rushed to hospital but died of his injuries. A female pedestrian was also killed after the driver lost control of the car, and Zulfiqar Ali’s bodyguard was injured.

The Bhutto murder investigation is highly sensitive, and, along with other members of the team, Zulfiqar Ali had received death threats. As a result, he was given extra government security last year. Yet his death was unexpected to those closest to him. “I cannot comment. I’m in a state of shock,” his deputy Azhar Chaudhry told AFP when asked to comment.

As yet, no-one has claimed responsibility for the attack. But, as one of Paksitan’s most senior criminal lawyers, Zulfiqar Ali had worked on many high-profile terrorism cases and had many enemies. While it is the Benazir connection that has made the headlines, at the time of his death he was also prosecuting seven men for the alleged role in the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. The attacks, orchestrated by militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, killed 166 people.

Police have not yet speculated on why Zulfiqar Ali was shot. But Pakistan’s rumour mill is already in action. In a country where conspiracy theories are the national pastime, some suggest that the army could have played a role. Former military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, is currently under house arrest in Islamabad, facing prosecution for failing to provide Bhutto with adequate security in the days before she was murdered.

The charges date back several years; in 2010, a UN inquiry concluded that Bhutto’s assassination could have been prevented, and the Musharraf’s government did not do enough to protect her. Soon afterwards, in February 2011, a warrant was issued for his arrest. This was impossible to enforce as Musharraf was in self-imposed exile abroad – but after he returned to Pakistan in March to contest elections, the charges resurfaced.

After Musharraf was arrested in April, Zulfiqar Ali said that the accusations against the former dictator amounted to aiding and abetting Bhutto’s killing.

People often say that most countries have an army, but in Pakistan, the army has a country. As a result, many have been saying for weeks that the army would not allow Musharraf to be tried for acts committed while he was head of the military. The murder of Zulfiqar Ali will do nothing to dispel these suspicions.

As the dust settles, all we can do is wait to see if one of Pakistan’s numerous militant organisations claims responsibility for the attack.

Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The toxic new right-wing media will outlast Trump even if he’s impeached

Fox News and a network of smaller outlets have created an alternative version of reality. That ecosystem might prove more durable than the US president. 

An early end to Donald Trump’s presidency looks more feasible than at any time in the 117 days since his inauguration.

The New York Times revealed on Tuesday that FBI director James Comey – who was fired by Trump a week ago – wrote a memo recording the President’s request he “let go” an investigation into links between Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security advisor, and Russia.

Already there is talk of impeachment, not least because the crime Trump is accused of - obstructing justice - is the same one that ended Richard Nixon's presidency.

But with a Republican-controlled Congress the impeachment process would be long and fraught, and is only likely to succeed if public opinion, and particularly the opinion of the Republican voters, swings decisively against Trump.

In another era, the rolling coverage of the president's chaotic, incompetent and potentially corrupt administration might have pushed the needle far enough. But many of those Republican voters will make their decision about whether or not to stick with Trump based not on investigative reporting in the NYT or Washington Post, but based on reading a right-wing media ecosystem filled with distortions, distractions and fabrications.

That ecosystem – which spans new and (relatively) old media - will be going into overdrive to protect a president it helped elect, and who in turn has nourished it with praise and access.

On Monday, BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel took a forensic look at how a new breed of hyper-partisan right wing sites – what he calls the "Upside Down media" – tried to undermine and discredit claims that Trump disclosed sensitive security information to Russian officials.

The same tactics can already be seen just 24 hours later. Notorious conspiracist site Infowars talks of “saboteurs” and “turncoats” undermining the administration with leaks, mirroring an email from Trump’s campaign team sent late on Tuesday. Newsmax, another right-leaning sight with links to Trump, attacks the source of the story, asking in its web splash “Why did Comey wait so long?”. GatewayPundit, which published several false stories about Hillary Clinton during the election campaign, appears to have ignored the story altogether. 

As Warzel points out, these new sites work in concert with older media, in particular Rupert Murdoch’s ratings-topping cable news channel Fox News.

Fox initially underplayed the Comey memo’s significance, switching later to projecting the story as a media-led attack on Trump. At the time of publication, the Fox homepage led with a splash headlined: “THE SHOW MUST GO ON Lawmakers vow to focus on Trump agenda despite WH controversies.”

Fox acts as a source of validation for the newly established right-wing sites. Once Fox has covered a story, smaller sites can push further and faster, knowing that they aren't going too far from at least one outlet considered respectable and mainstream. If anything should make the UK value the impartiality rules, however imperfect, which govern its broadcast news, it’s Fox’s central role in enabling this toxic mix of misinformation.

These new media sites have another weapon, however. They understand and exploit the way internet platforms - in particular Facebook - are designed to maximise attention. They have found that playing on very human desires for stories that confirm our biases and trigger emotional responses is the best way to build audiences and win fans, and they have little compulsion abusing that knowledge.

This isn’t just a Trump or Fox-related phenomenon. It’s not even just a right-wing one. In both the US and the UK left-wing hyper-partisan sites with a tenuous relationship with the truth have sprung up. They have followed the same playbook, and in most cases the same advertising-based funding model, which has worked so well for the right. Emotive headlines, spun stories, outright fabrications and an insistence that “the corrupt mainstream media won’t report this” work just as well in generating clicks and shares for both ends of the political spectrum.

The main difference between the two political poles is that the right has benefited from an ideologically and temperamentally suited president, and a facilitator in Fox News. 

Of course the combined efforts of this new media and the Fox-led old may still fail. Trump’s recent transgressions appear so severe that they could break through to even his diehard supporters.

But if Trump does fall, the new right wing media ecosystem is unlikely to fall with him. 

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