Islamabad: In an unprecedented move against a former Pakistani army chief, an anti-terrorism court on Tuesday indicted ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf on charges of murder and conspiracy in the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Musharraf was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and facilitation of the murder of the two-time former premier along with seven other co-accused.
This is the first time a former military ruler or an army chief has been indicted in a murder case in Pakistan, which has been ruled by the military for most of its 66-year history.
The 70-year-old former President was brought under heavy security to the anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi. If convicted, he can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
State prosecutor Chaudhry Muhammad Azhar confirmed that Judge Habibur Rehman read the chargesheet in the presence of Musharraf and two other accused, former Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz and Superintendent of Police Khurram Shahzad.
"Musharraf denied the allegation today in court," Aasia Ishaq, spokesperson for his All Pakistan Muslim League, said.
She said the charges against Musharraf were "politically motivated" and a legal team will continue to defend him.
Ishaq said the court has fixed the next hearing on August 27 and Musharraf will face the trial.
"He was not in the list of accused till 2008 but later his name was included on the basis of an email by Benazir to the US journalist Mark Segal," said Ishaq.
"When this email has been considered by the court, why has it not considered another email by Benazir to Musharraf in which she nominated three people as culprits for her (possible) murder."
Ishaq was referring to a secret communication between Bhutto and Musharraf in which she reportedly said three men, including former Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi, should be nominated in a police report if she was killed.
None of three men pointed out by Bhutto have been charged. The four other accused in Bhutto`s assassination - Hasnain Gul, Rafaqat Hussain, Sher Zaman and Abdul Rasheed - were not produced in court today as they had already been indicted.
They are being held in the high-security Adiala Jail of Rawalpindi for the past five years. The eighth accused, Aizaz Shah, is a teenager and will be tired in a separate juvenile court.
Musharraf, who has been held in his farmhouse for the past four months, is also facing charges for the 2006 killing of Baloch leader Akbar Bugti and the imposition of emergency rule in 2007.
Earlier, Musharraf`s government had accused slain Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was involved in Bhutto`s assassination.
Mehsud`s name was removed from the list of accused after he was killed in a US drone attack in 2009.
Bhutto was killed in suicide attack in Rawalpindi shortly after addressing an election rally on December 27, 2007. It was the second major attack on her since she returned to Pakistan in October 2007 after years of self-imposed exile.
About 140 people were killed in the first suicide attack on Bhutto in Karachi. Musharraf was President when she was killed.
He had warned Bhutto of dangers to her life before she came back. His name was initially not part of the case but police implicated him on the basis of an email by Bhutto to Segal that said Musharraf should be held responsible for her killing.
Musharraf has already been granted bail in the case and today the court accepted his application to excuse him from day-to-day hearings of the case because of security reasons.
The Taliban have threatened to target Musharraf. This was one of the reasons authorities decided to hold him at his farmhouse, which has been declared a sub-jail.
Musharraf`s indictment was planned for August 6 but the court delayed it till today as he could not be produced due to security threats.