ISLAMABAD, March 14: The contents of what has been described as an infamous press conference on the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, by Brig (retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema, who was spokesman of the interior ministry at that time, had been revealed by Maj-Gen Nusrat Naeem, the then director general of the Counter-Intelligence Wing of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
This was stated on Monday in a DawnNews report backed by documents and background interviews with people involved in the investigation. “Maj-Gen (retd) Nusrat Naeem may be interrogated by the Federal Investigation Agency’s joint investigation team (JIT) and his name may be added in a supplementary challan,” an official said.
“The contents of the press conference were provided by Maj-Gen Nusrat Naeem, DG-C, ISI, at a meeting.” Big (retd) Cheema whose statement was recorded by the joint investigation team, said the meeting was held at the ISI headquarters and he had attended it along with the then interior secretary, Syed Kamal Shah.
“I did not express any assumptions, guess work or opinion at the press briefing. I just reproduced what I was given to share with the media,” he said.
At the press conference held on Dec 28, 2007, Brig (retd) Cheema presented an audio-tape of a conversation between Baitullah Mehsud (identified as Amir sab in the tape) and one ‘Maulvi sab’ and told reporters that the chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan was behind the murder.
In the latest challan submitted to an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, paragraph 42 relates to the subject. “In this press conference the then DG, NCMC, not only announced the cause of death of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto but also declared that the terrorists belonged to Baitullah Mehsud, chief commander of TTP. The credibility of investigation of this case was affected by the premature press conference.”
Interior ministry sources said they believed that Brig (retd) Cheema had acted only on the instructions of his immediate boss Kamal Shah who accompanied him at the ISI headquarters. They said the decision to address the press conference had been taken at a meeting held the same morning at the Rawalpindi camp office with the then president and the chief of army staff Gen Pervez Musharraf in the chair. Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah, the former chief of Intelligence Bureau and a trusted aide to Gen (retd) Musharraf, confirmed in his statement, a copy of which is also available with DawnNews, that the meeting had been held. “The intercepted CD and medical report was provided by the ISI. The briefing was given by DG-C to the participants.”
According to sources, the JIT has not yet interrogated Maj-Gen Naeem who is living in Rawalpindi and reportedly working at the Bahria Town.