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.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Unlikely sisters in the Gaza Strip

A former Jewish settler in Gaza recalls her childhood friendship with a young Palestinian.

It was well after midnight, one summer night in 1995, when Inbar Rozy, a 13-year-old living in the former Israeli settlement of Alei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, heard her parents answer the phone. Sitting up in bed, surrounded by potted plants, candles and fairy dolls lit by shafts of light from a nearby security outpost, Inbar listened closely.

“I could hear everyone talking around me, making calls,” Inbar said when we met recently in Nitzan, southern Israel. When she got up to find out what was happening, her parents told her to make up a second mattress. As dawn broke, they led into the room a young woman carrying a small bag and wearing a black shirt and jeans. “She had shoulder-length dark hair dyed with red henna and beautiful eyes – big, black with thick eyelashes,” Inbar told me, smiling. “[She was] quiet. She looked scared.”

The woman was Rina (her surname cannot be given for security reasons), a talented artist in her early twenties studying at a local art college, where she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. For Rina, coming from a traditional family, marrying a non-Muslim would be strictly forbidden.

When her parents found out, they were furious and forbade her from seeing her boyfriend. But her male cousins felt this wasn’t enough. Earlier on the day the girls first met, Rina’s cousins had attempted to kill her in retribution for her perceived “honour crime”. Seeing that another attempt on her life was likely, Rina’s father called a relative, who in turn called Inbar’s father, Yossef, a friend of many years. There was no doubt she had to leave. Ironically, a Jewish settlement protected by the Israel Defence Forces was the safest place in Gaza for her to be.

In 1967, Israel seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six Day War. In time, it settled 21 communities on a third of the land, with a population of 8,000 by 2005. Soldiers guarded the settlements from 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom were displaced in 1967 and moved to live in nearby refugee camps. In Gaza, before Israel’s ultimate withdrawal from the Strip in 2005, relationships between Israeli settlers and Palestinians were fraught. True, many Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements, earning wages higher than elsewhere in the Strip, but the two communities lived largely separate lives.

In the mid-1990s, even after the Oslo Accords, violence was simmering. Israeli military incursions increased with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Thousands of home-made Qassam rockets were launched by Palestinian militants at settlers and those living in southern Israel. Security measures hardened. The veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who spent several years living in Gaza, describes neighbourhoods that were “turned into jails behind barbed-wire fences, closed gates, IDF surveillance, tanks and entry-permit red tape”.

And yet, in spite of the forced segregation, Inbar’s family enjoyed close links with their Palestinian neighbours. Inbar’s father worked as an ambulance driver, and on several occasions he helped transport those who lived nearby for emergency medical treatment in Israel. “Every Tuesday, my father’s Jewish and Arab friends would come to our house and we’d eat lunch together,” Inbar remembered.

Given the gravity of Rina’s situation, she couldn’t leave the house. Secrecy was paramount. The girls spent weeks together indoors, Inbar said, chatting, watching TV and drawing. “I’m not sure that as a child I actually understood it for real,” she said. “She taught me how to paint and sketch a face from sight.”

Almost as soon as Rina arrived, Inbar’s family began receiving anonymous phone calls asking about her. “My dad told me, ‘Don’t mention anything about Rina. Say you don’t know what they’re talking about – because otherwise they’ll come and kill us,’” Inbar said.

While the girls got to know each other, Inbar’s mother, Brigitte, found a women’s shelter in East Jerusalem for Rina. Whereas today Gaza is closed off by a military border under heavy surveillance, at that time it was porous. Brigitte drove Rina in to the capital, where she was given a new name and identity that would enable her to begin a new life, on condition that she contact no one in Gaza.

Today Inbar, who is 33, works at the Gush Katif centre in Nitzan – a museum dedicated to the memory of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Despite her parents’ objections, the family was evacuated in 2005. Unlike most settlers in Gaza, some residents of Alei Sinai were determined to stay on, even if that meant forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. “I have no problem with living as a minority in a Palestinian state,” one of Alei Sinai’s inhabitants, Avi Farhan, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time.

Inbar now lives in Ashkelon, a city of 140,000 in southern Israel, and finds the big city alienating, especially when she recalls the warm relationships that once existed in Gaza. “I’ve never felt less secure,” she told me.

Years later, she learned that Rina had developed cancer and died. “The day before Rina left . . . she drew a portrait of me,” she said, describing how her friend had outlined, in charcoal strokes, the features of the teenager. Her parents packed the portrait with all their belongings in a shipping container the day they left Gaza. Soon after, the container was destroyed in a fire.

“I think if people had given it a chance . . . they would have had these kinds of friendships,” Inbar said, looking back. “We’d get along fairly well if we didn’t look at others as the monsters over the wall.” 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism