Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hayat Khan Sherpao: Conspiracy Theories Come to Court

This is the fourth and final part in a series of posts about the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao.

Click here for the 1st part.
Click here for the 2nd part.
Click here for the 3rd part.

The Relevance of the Verdict

The decision of the court in
Asfandyar Wali v the State is an example of the manner in which Pakistan's superior courts often deal with our politically controlled (and patently incompetent) police forces.

The trial and verdict also shed some light on an issue that has been addressed by the authors
of this blog on multiple occasions; namely the Pakistani fondness for conspiracy theories.

Also, just a quick note for those of you who are interested, the Judges in this case were Abdul Ghani Khan Khattak, and S. Usman Ali Shah, JJ.

The case was decided on the 13th of July 1977, 11 days after Bhutto was overthrown by Zia for the murder of Ahmed Raza Kasuri's father. The timing of the decision probably isn't a coincidence, and the judgment should be read accordingly.

'They did it. We saw them do it.'

Now obviously the police weren't charging Asfandyar Wali and Nisar Khan with actually having physically planted the bomb that killed Hayat Sherpao. Rather, the two were accused of having ordered the attack and supplied the bomb to the two young men who supposedly went on to plant it, namely Anwar Bacha and Amjad Ali.

Anwar Bacha was the nephew of Shahzad Gul Bacha, who was an NAP senator at the time, and who was also a senator during Musharrafs’ recent caretaker government.

There are no specific facts pertaining to the background of of Amjad Ali within the judgment.

One of the main difficulties faced by the prosecuti
on was in establishing a connection between Amjad and Anwar on the one hand, and Asfandyar Wali and Nisar Khan on the other. Consequently, the testimony of the witnesses summoned to court primarily focused upon bridging that gap, and fell into three categories:

1) Cab drivers (who had transported Amjad and Anwar back and forth between Asfandyar Wali, Nisar Khan and the scene of the crime)

2) Police Officers (who encountered Amjad and Anwar at different locations around the city, most importantly at Asfandyar Walis house)

3) Relatives of the accused (who were said to have seen Amjad and Anwar with the alleged tape-recorder-bomb they obtained from Asfandyar)

'The Cab Drivers Saw Them...'

There were two main Cab Driver witnesses. Both were held at the police station for a considerable amount of time, casting serious doubt as to whether their factual account was actually their own. One of the cab drivers was said to have driven Amjad and Anwar to Asfandyar Walis address to enable them to pick up the tape recorder bomb.

That cab driver admitted:

A) that he had been arrested around the 20th of
B) that it took 12-13 days for his statement to be recorded.
C) that he had been in police custody since his arrest, up till the 16th of June, for nearly four months.

Unsurprisingly the court really wasn’t inspired with confidence, and his testimony didn't help matters:
"It appears that [Cab Driver No 1], a sworn witness, is trained in the art of manipulating things... Under the circumstances it would thus be highly imprudent to place any reliance on a person of this demeanor."
In relation to the other cab driver, I'll skip the prosecution's stupidities. By that stage an
annoyed and exasperated High Court Bench had passed a number of snide remarks during the course of proceedings, and said:
"The Prosecution has indeed caused us all bewilderment in this case and thus at appropriate stages, we were driven to pass some remarks in order not only to refresh ourselves but to place our finder on its highly exaggerated account.

[Cab Driver No 2] has not satsifed the test of a truthful witness and thus, as a matter of sheer logic, it can be conveniently concluded that he had been arrayed as an impostor witness to depose in the
case. "
'And So Did These Police Officers'

Tullas are generally pretty useless witnesses in Pakistan. Whats more, the prosecution's own stupidity in coercing the cab drivers hadn’t helped the credibility of their police witnesses. The court noted:
“It is a matter of record that in the present case a good many witness were forced by the investigating agency to appear in the witness box …"
The Judges didn't think that the police officers were any exception
. Of particularly annoyance to the court was the fact that it took the investigating agency two months to record a key police officers statement, despite the fact that the officer in question had been on permanent duty snooping outside Asfandyar Walis house for two and a half years prior to the murder, and was consequently well known to the investigating agencies. The Judges wondered out loud as to why he wasn't called to give a statement the moment Asfandyar Wali was arrested.

It was held that all of this meant:

“[The witness] must be held to have spoken in the case what was suggested to him by his fellow men in the investigating agency.”

In other words, they took some time to make the case up, and then belatedly informed the police officer to give a statement to that effect.

'And We Also Have Some Insane Relatives of the Accused...'

Another central prosecution witness was one Mr.Mian Mohibbudin. He was the cousin of Ahmed Farooq (one of the co accused who Inspector Aurangzeb had threatened with Sardar Daud’s penis replica).

On Mohibbudin’s own bizarre account, he developed
some mental health issue and was admitted to hospital on the 7th of February, the day prior to the murder. He said that Anwar and Amjad came to visit him in hospital on that same day whilst carrying the tape recorder bomb with them.

During his cross examination however, Mohibbudin admitted that his father was in the Peoples Party and that the PPP side of his family had been having an armed squabble with Ahmed Farooq’s NAP side of his family for some time.

The Court asked the obvious question as to why the Amjad and Anwar would
A) carry a tape-recorder-bomb around everywhere openly like complete idiots;
B) visit a mental patient the day before the murder for absolutely no reason;
C) show the mental patient the tape-recorder bomb despite the fact that he was the familial arch nemesis of their co-conspirator Ahmad Farooq.
The Court took Mohibbudin to be a partisan witness, and seemed to be quite annoyed with him. When discussing the standard of scrutiny to be applied another police witness, they gratuitously referred back to him saying:
“Fortunately, [this other witness] is not a mental case like Police Witness Mian Mohibuddin, in order that he should be shown any indulgence.”
So to cut an extremely long and convoluted transcript short, the testimony of all the police witness was taken to be
concocted, inconsistent ramble.

The Confessions, and the Final Verdict

At this dire stage in the verdict, the prosecution must have been hoping bey
ond hope that their phallus induced confessions would rescue their case. It is worth reading what the Court's verdict on this point:

"In the circumstances of the case we feel convinced that the accused appellants were subjected to mental as well as physical tortures. Unfortunately, a Senior Minister of the Provincial Governments had suffered his death in the incident. Therefore the police cannot be expected to have submitted a report to the higher authorities that as a result of their investigation, the culprit's were not traced.
In view of this, it would therefore be obvious that once the police laid their hands on the accused appellants in this case they would not have left them excused until they were obliged to confess that they were responsible for the crime.

In a case of this nature it is a matter of common knowledge that the police must have employed all methods of physical violence against the accused appellants to agree to the making of the so called confessions. The practice f subjecting the accused to physical violence is yet to be a forgone myth in this Sub Continent.

"...[With] regard to Asfandryar Wali and Nisar Muhammad Khan accused appellants, it is also a matter of record that hey remained in the custody of the police for over one and a half months and were never produced before any magistrate. In the circumstances the assertion of the accused appellants that the confessions were extorted from them under duress must be taken of by the court."

"...We regret to observe that the treatment meted out to the accused appellants while they were in police custody was an act of wanton assault directed against the sanctity of human dignity which is impermissible in a civilized society."
The case pretty much ended there. The Court even held that the tape recorder couldnt have contained the bomb, as it was alleged to have been placed at some distance, whereas the explosion came from under Sherpao's feet. Asfandyar Wali, Nisar Khan, Ahmad Farooq, and the NAP were consequently acquitted.

I do not know what happened to Senator Bacha's son and the illustrious Amjad.

A Brief Note on The Hyderabad Tribunal

The Hyderabad Tribunal that ran concurrently with the trial was equally and widely regarded as a farce. Bhutto's government prepared a detailed reference to the Supreme Court, seeking to legally confirm the banning the NAP. The reference, alleged that the NAP was an anti-state political organization, and was bent upon destroying Pakistan in accordance with Sardar Daud's pro-soviet Afghan government.

Wali Khan, and 50 odd Bhutto opponents from the Frontier and Baluchistan were tried for high treason inside Hyderabad jail (hence the name). The Tribunal was headed by Chief Justice Hamood-ur Rehman. While all 50+ were acquitted of the charge of murdering Hayat Khan Sherpao, the decision to ban the NAP for their successionist activities was upheld by the Supreme Court.

As with Asfandyar Wali vs The State, the incompetence of the prosecution continued to be met with contempt from the Wali Khans. At one stage, the prosecution alleged that Wali Khan had been sent Rs 20 million by Indira Gandhi through a certain emissary, presumably to further his anti-state agenda.

Wali Khan (being Wali Khan) promptly sued the emissary, hoping either to recover the Rs 20 million allegedly sent, or at least to prove a point. He figured that if he was going to be charged with receiving the bribe, he he might as well receive it and enjoy it.

Much like in the May 12th inquest, the Government used a standard delay & overwhelm tactic, and bombarded the court with witnesses, specifically about 455 of them. It took over two years to go through the testimony of 22 of those witnesses. Annoyed and exasperated, Wali Khan went on another (justified) rant. Try and picture Hamood-ur Rehman's face when Wali Khan tells him:
“My Lord, please arrange “Aabe-Hayat” (the alexir of life) for us so that we could live till the completion of the proceedings of this trial.

Take it yourself also to enable your honor to write the judgment in this case. After completion of the proceedings, give it to Mr. Bhutto also so that he could live till the decision of the case.

Producing only 22 witnesses in two and a half years means that a half century will be required to hear the statements of witnesses of the prosecution and the same number of years will be required for their cross examination.”
Eventually Wali Khan got bored with trying to defend himself and resigned himself to his fate, declaring that the tribunal included biased judges and that a decision to convict had already been made.

Fortunately for him, Bhutto was eventually overthrown (and hung). General Zia-ul Haq wound up the Hyderabad tribunal, and by 1979 all the detainees were released ba
ck into politics.

The Theories

So despite the public outcry, the banning of the NAP, the nationwide arrests, the investigation, the convoluted accusations, the detentions, the torture and not least the whole High Court Trial, Supreme Court Trial and Hyderabad Tribunal, the central question as to who killed Hayat Khan Sherpao remains unanswered.

It seems the Pakistani way of resolving any issue (be it the question of a murder or our national identity) is to run around in circles until everyone is utterly fed up, and then drop the debate altogether because by then some other crises
will have come up anyway. Every gaping hole in consensus is thereby allowed to persist and is instead ignored as much as it can be.

Anyway. To add to the conspiracy theories put forward by the prosecution and the state, here are some other tales that filled that particular void of information. Who knows, one might even be true.

Bhutto Murdered Sherpao:

Because of his impending desertion/defection to the NAP, and/or
Because Sherpao and Benazir had crushes on each other OR had an affair OR had been discussing marriage AND ZAB wanted Benazir to marry Amin Makhdoom Fahim, and/or
(3) Because Sherpao didn't want to desert or defect but rather wanted to lead a coup within the PPP and intended to supplant ZAB as leader and/or
(4) Because Bhutto needed someone senior enough to die who's death he could plausibly blame on the NAP and thereby have an excuse to ban the party and arrest the last of his opponents.

Some of these issues referred to here in (1) and (3) were alluded to in part 2 of the series. My problem with this set of theories is that Aftab Ahmed Sherpao (Hayats younger brother) was a PPP minister under Benazir for quite some time until he parted ways with his PPP(Sherpao Group). Why would he do so if genuinely thought that her father murdered his brother? I suppose you could answer that by saying that the daughters appreciation for Hayat Khan was well known and therefore she was not tainted by her fathers actions.

On (2), the supposed love triangle of Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Benazir and Hayat Khan Sherpao is a little rich. It would add an interesting dimension to Zardari's treatment of Amin Fahim, but really thats probably just wishful speculation.

On (4), this is pretty flawed. The fact that the NAP was exonerated for the murder runs contrary to any conspiracy premised on an intention to blame them. The charge that they killed him may have been conveniently possible following Sherpao's death, but it makes no sense that it was the motivating cause of the murder.

(B) KHAD and/or the KGB assassinated Sherpao

Ostensibly I suppose their Sherpao's death could be seen as a cold war assassination. But I cannot see how the killing of Bhutto's lieutenant would assist their agenda in any meaningful respect. It simply provided Bhutto with a popular basis upon which to neuter the NAP, KHAD's supposed allies in Pakistan.


There are plenty of questions that will remain unanswered. There is no conclusion. Until Pakistan's current model of dynastic party politics matures into something altogether more democratic and civilized, the country will continue to lose its leaders to violence for the foreseeable future. Hayat Khan Sherpao's death should serve as a reminder of that.


Asad said...

excellent series of posts.

"Wali Khan (being Wali Khan) promptly sued the emissary, hoping either to recover the Rs 20 million allegedly sent, or at least to prove a point. He figured that if he was going to be charged with receiving the bribe, he he might as well receive it and enjoy it".


NB said...

Thanks man, good to know someone read it! Vaisay, it seems the truly resilient Pakistani politicians are always the ones with the sense of humour. Wali Khan is one example. Shaikh Rashid is another.

Ahsan said...

i want to invite shaikh rashid for one of our sessions. it'll be a blast.

Ali said...

just saw sheikh rashid on tv giving an intimate interview, circa pre-election. he's one of those characters that you need out there in whichever field it may be. he had some deep things to say too, in particular i liked his attitude to why he gave away his haveli or kothi something in some place (i dont know if it was inherited or not) to some university for them to utilise/generate income/house people. his reason was he doesn't want to be the guy who leaves a huge haveli for his nieces/nephews to argue and boast about 'ye mere mamoon ki hai, ye mere chacha ki hai.'

Asfandyar said...

NB, I take off my hat and doff it at your general direction. Fantastic and insightful piece of writing that was concise and well put.

Hilarious aswell. And necessary, too many of us pakistanis suffer from short-term memory loss where we hail people like sharif as saviour of democracy etc etc etc.

NB said...

Thanks Asfandyar, Im very glad you enjoyed it.

Yes the short term memory thing was one that I was keen to point out.

Seriously though there is someone to blame for our short term memory thing. And thats PTV. They've been so utterly useless as our only form of mass media over the years, I really doubt anyone in the country really had a clear or complete picture of our history and the history of our leaders.

Youtube and Geo will change all that now I hope. Everything is on record. I mean compare BB's assassination to Sherpao. The entire thing is on 3 different shots of video.

Whats particularly annoying about NS is that hes convinced himself of his democratic credentials.

And that the hair on his head is natural, and wasn't transplanted directly from his ass.

azoic said...

i loved this series; great research, and very well-written. basically a very good example of why you should post more often!

Anonymous said...

well we are missing a very important point that is Fall of bengal had happened before 1971 and Bhutto came to Power after Bengal was seperated already so this could not be reason of the PPP party men seperating rather it was a small aspect :

1. Nawab Kasuri Father of Ahmed Raza Kasuri Family( Ahmadis ) and
Sherpoa Family( Ahmadis ) had been serving the Great game as Loyal British Agents . As they were very loyal to British . Sherpoa father was Khan Bahadur( British Title ) Ghulam Hayder Khan of Sherpoa village who would be bribing Mullahs ( 600 rupees/ Month according to Diaries of Lord Cunninghams Governor NWFP ) so that Britsh would be portryaed as friends and Ahle-Kitab and Russian as Kafir and Bolshiveks and Jihad had to be waged agaisnt them .
This was ploy used in 1920,s and later in 1980 to Fight Russian by these Mullahs and thier Mujahideen to Destablise Afghanistan, Secondly Sherpoa family links with Ahmadiya community is also Talk of the town .
( Aftab Ahmad Shrpoa) , as Ahmedis use Ahmad as Middle name .

2. Kasuri Family also suspected Ahmadis , also served as most loyal Family of Nawabs to british , the Nawab Kasuri whos murder was put on Zulfiqar Bhutto was most loyal majestrate to Britsh , he was Instrumental in Punishing , Bhagat Singh ( Rang De Basnti movie Fame) , freedom fighter of Faisalbad area who was fighting british , as no magistrate was ready to sign his death warrent hence Ahmed raza Kasuri Father, Nawab Kasuri was called in to sign death warrent . The Place where nawab Kasuri was murdered is near a roundabout at Shadman tower lahore and it is same place where Bhagat Singh was hanged . Strange Coincidence he met his fate at same spot ( A Museum is needed and Probable Tourist Spot)

3. Zulfiqar Bhotto , in 1973 constitution had introduced a second amendment , that Ahmadis are non -muslims , hence Ahmadis were forced to go underground and most of them would not declare themselves as Ahmadis in official Papers , which meant being non-Muslims and it was especially Taboo in Pushtoon NWFP. After this law many Ahmadis who being in Powerful Positions and hence Ahmadis l became very angry and anoyed at ZAB. In Fact the Murder of ZAB and Benefir are also linked , as Ch-Zahur- Illahi ( Ahmadi ) Father of Pervaiz Illah CM punjab are suspects in Sherpoa case as well as in Benezir case . As Murder planning was done there at Ch - Zahur Illahi house according to Police Report .

4. Sons of Ch Zahur Illahi( Ahmadis ) - ie Pervaiz Illahi and Ch Shujahat were named by Benezir in her letter that these people should be included in FIR of after her death. May be death of ZAB and Benezir are linked to that Ahmadi Connection , as this masacre of family who declares them Non- Muslims through the only constitution( 1973) of Paksitan that was formulated by all people of Pakistan unanimously through Votes , makes sense and a good mottive as well. ( Religious Angle for Ahmadis ) .

5. Maulvi Mustaq Chief Justice who ordered hanging was also an Ahmadi too .

Anonymous said...

what were the rumors at the time of his death that he was married?what were the facts to that ?

karachi khatmal said...

seriously, best across every pakistani blog out there. spell-binding stuff.

NB said...


Thanks dude. And apologies for the ridiculously late response to your generous comment. I just saw it when i relinked the post.