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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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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