ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s judicial system is responsible for delay in punishment to the killers of former premier Benazir Bhutto, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party claimed.

Senator Rehman Malik, Interior Minister in the last PPP term, said Benazir Bhutto’s assassins would long have met their fate if Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry – former Chief Justice – was sincere.

“If only Justice Chaudhry was sincere, the case would have been completed in one year. By now we would have long heard the fate of the killers. It is because of our judicial system that this case is still open. We are expecting a judgment on January 2 and are hoping for justice,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Nation here at his residence on the eve of Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary.

The former prime minister was assassinated when she finished addressing a rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007 in a gun-and-bomb attack.

Then military ruler Pervez Musharraf blamed Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud for the killing. But a UN investigation report said lack of adequate security was the main reason behind the successful attack by the terrorists. This automatically questions Musharraf’s role as he was asked for security a number of times by the late Bhutto. However, Musharraf – who denies any role in the murder – is just a co-accused in the case.

The PPP won the 2008 elections but in its five-year term, the party failed to expedite the case proceedings which fell to delays.

Rehman Malik said the PPP had not thrown the murder case into the cold storage rather it wanted a ‘hot trial.’ “We are the victims, we want the killers to be punished,” he said.

About alleged lack of interest of PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari in the case, he said: “This is ridiculous. Zardari is the main victim. He has been hoping for justice for years now but he is very unlucky as he himself was victimized without any evidence in the past. He believes in unity of Pakistan so he is waiting for the courts for justice.”

Malik said Zardari was the first one to stop Benazir Bhutto from returning in 2007. “He offered to return himself rather than her but Benazir Bhutto did not listen. She had made up her mind to come back. She returned amid threats. Even the UAE government had told her of the risks involved in returning,” the PPP leader said. He said some elements were bent upon discrediting Zardari despite his services to the nation.

He recalled how the crime scene was washed up within hours after the assassination. “We were thrown into a dead end. Our evidence was compromised under a conspiracy. At that time the PPP was not in power, so we could do nothing except protesting,” he maintained.

He said the then government did not provide security to Benazir Bhutto under the ‘blue book’ and her vehicle was stopped by the people after the rally. The VVIP movement does not take place that way. She was treated like an ordinary person which led to the incident,” Malik regretted.

Asked was Musharraf the main accused if security was the issue, he said: “Let the court decide. We will speak after they have come with their verdict.”

He said prosecutor Zulfikar Chaudhry – who according to him was doing a splendid job – was killed as he was closing in to get the killers punished.

“There is a group who do not want the murderers to face punishment. They have been doing their bit to delay the proceedings to weaken the case,” he contended.

Malik said whenever the PPP approached the courts for justice, it faced disappointment. “Instead of listening to our cases, the Iftikhar Chaudhry-led judiciary sent our PM (Yousaf Raza Gilani) home. We were never given a fair treatment,” he said.

He added: “Zardari moved the court to correct the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but Iftikhar Chaudhry again ignored it. Bhutto is still awaiting justice despite the fact that the judges who gave the controversial verdict have themselves admitted they were wrong,” he said.

On Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sincerity with the Benazir Bhutto case, he said: “This is the government’s case so they are pursuing it. We will be interested in the output.”

On the political front, Malik said the PPP was regaining ground in the Punjab province. “Basically we were never defeated. We were always there but we have been sidelined by rigging. We will come back and win in Punjab,” he said.

Malik said the PPP was happy that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif welcomed Zardari’s return from self-imposed exile. “We appreciate that (PM’s gesture). Bilawal (Bhutto Zardari) is leading the party well but we also need someone with experience. Nobody matches Zardari in politics in present-day Pakistan. Bilawal is our chief and Zardari is our strength,” he said.

The lawmaker, who is close to Zardari, said there would be alliance in Punjab and other provinces in the coming weeks. “Old alliances will break and new alliances would surface. Zardari’s experience will come into play,” he added.

He said the PPP was hoping to do better in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan also to retain its image of a national party. “We have done so much for Balochistan, I am sure they will support us. We need electables in Balochistan due to their tribal system,” he remarked.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said, the PPP expected to do much better. “We have our roots there. We will do better and also engage other parties to improve standing,” he explained.

Malik said the PPP wanted equal seats for all the provinces in the National Assembly on the pattern of the Senate. “We need amendments in the constitution but for a start, we can divide Punjab into two provinces for a fair play. Under the current system, Punjab decides who forms the government which is not fair,” he pointed out.

He said the PPP had already divided the province in its organisation into Central Punjab and South Punjab. “All the provinces should play role in federal government formation. Punjab should not have a monopoly,” he reasoned.

The PPP leader said armed forces had done well to reduce terror attacks but there was still work to be done. “We need to eliminate this menace complete for our future generations. Terrorism even cost us Benazir Bhutto,” he emphasised.