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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Emmanuel Macron's power struggle with the military

Reminding your subordinates that you are "their boss" doesn't go as far as listening to their problems, it may seem.

This is the sixth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

It had started well between Macron and the army. He was the first president to chose a military vehicle to parade with troops on the Champs-Élysées at his inauguration, had made his first official visit a trip to Mali to meet French soldiers in the field, and had pulled a James Bond while visiting a submarine off the Brittany coast.

It’s all fun and games in submarines, until they ask you to pay to maintain the fleet.

“Macron wanted to appear as the head of armed forces, he was reaffirming the president’s link with the military after the François Hollande years, during which the defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a lot of power,” Elie Tenenbaum, a defence research fellow at the French Institute for International Relations, told the New Statesman. The new president was originally viewed with distrust by the troops because he is a liberal, he says, but “surprised them positively” in his first weeks. Olivier de France, the research director at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, agrees: “He sent good signals at first, gathering sympathy.” 

But the honeymoon ended in July, with what Tenenbaum describes as Macron’s first “real test” on defence: the announced cut of €850m from the army’s budget, despite Macron’s (very ambitious) campaign pledge to rise the defence budget to 2 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025. A row ensued between the president and the French army’s chief of staff, general Pierre de Villiers, when the general complained publicly that the defence budget was “unbearable”. He told MPs: “I won’t let him [Macron] fuck me up like that!”

Macron replied in a speech he gave to military troops the day before Bastille Day, in which he called soldiers to honour their “sense of duty and discretion” and told them: “I have taken responsibilities. I am your boss.” After the general threatened to quit and wrote at length about “trust” in leadership, Macron added a few days later that “If something brings into conflict the army’s chief of staff and the president of the Republic, the chief of staff changes.” That, Tenenbaum says, was the real error: “On the content, he was cutting the budget, and on the form, he was straightening out a general in front of his troops”. This is the complete opposite of the military ethos, he says: “It showed a lack of tact.”

This brutal demonstration of power led to de Villiers’ resignation on 19 July – a first in modern French politics. (de Villiers had already protested over budget cuts and threatened to quit in 2014, but Hollande’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had backed down.)

Macron did his best to own up to his mistake, assuring the military that, although this year’s cuts were necessary to meet targets, the budget would be rised in 2018. “I want you to have the means to achieve your mission,” he said.

But the harm was done. “He should have introduced a long-term budget plan with a rise in the coming years right away,” says de France. “It was clumsy – of course he is the boss, everyone knows that. If he needs to say it, something is off.” The €850m will be taken out of the army’s “already suffering” equipment budget, says Tenenbaum. “There are pressures everywhere. Soldiers use equipment that is twice their age, they feel no one has their back." The 2 per cent GDP target Macron set himself during the campaign – a “precise” and “ambitious” one – would mean reaching a €50bn army budget by 2025, from this year’s €34m, he explains. “That’s €2bn added per year. It’s enormous.”

Read more: #5: On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

Macron has two choices ahead, De France explains: “Either France remains a big power and adapts its means to its ambitions” – which means honouring the 2 per cent by 2025 pledge – “or wants to be a medium power and adapts its ambitions to its means”, by reducing its army’s budget and, for instance, reinvesting more in European defence.

The military has good reason to doubt Macron will keep his promise: all recent presidents have set objectives that outlast their mandates, meaning the actual rise happens under someone else’s supervision. In short, the set goals aren’t always met. Hollande’s law on military programming planned a budget rise for the period 2018-19, which Macron has now inherited. “The question is whether Macron will give the army the means to maintain these ambitions, otherwise the forces’ capacities will crumble,” says Tenenbaum. “These €850m of cuts are a sign than he may not fulfill his commitments.”

If so, Macron’s row with the general may only be the beginning.  It didn’t help Macron’s popularity, which has been plummeting all summer. And the already distrustful troops may not forgive him: more than half of France’s forces of order may support Marine Le Pen’s Front national, according to one poll. “It’s hardly quantifiable and includes police officers,” Tenenbaum cautions. All the same, the army probably supports right-wing and hard-right politicians in higher numbers than the general population, he suggests.

James Bond would probably have known better than to irritate an entire army – but then again, Bond never was “their boss.”