A year on, Bhutto killing unresolved

The mystery of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination remains unresolved as her first death anniversary approaches.

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ISLAMABAD: The mystery of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination remains unresolved as her first death anniversary approaches, though police and Scotland Yard experts say she died after her head hit the sunroof lever of her costly and bomb proof Toyota Land Cruiser.

Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack Dec 27 last year when she was leaving after addressing an election rally in the adjacent garrison town Rawalpindi. When she appeared from the sunroof of her vehicle to wave to the gathering, she was fired at followed by a bomb blast that also killed five of her supporters.

Pakistani authorities said at the time that Bhutto had escaped the bullets but grievously hurt herself when her head hit the lever while ducking down.

Bhutto also wrote an email to an American journalist, Wolf Blitzer, on Oct 26, 2007 saying that then president Pervez Musharraf should be held responsible if she was killed. Benazir was also aware of the danger to her life, as the interior ministry had already informed her about the threats to her life on Dec 12, 2007. In spite of all this, she continued her election campaign.

She said on Dec 26, 2007 in a public gathering in Peshawar that life should be lived like a lion, not like a jackal.

A seven-member team of doctors which examined Bhutto told the health ministry that she had open wounds on her left temporal region from which "brain matter was exuding". According to the report, it was not a bullet wound but was caused by an edged object - probably the sunroof lever.

However, Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that is now headed by her son Bilawal and widower president Asif Ali Zardari did not agree with the report, after which the government sought the services of Scotland Yard to investigate the case.

Scotland Yard officers, after five weeks of investigation, reported there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Bhutto died due to a severe head injury "sustained as a consequence of the bomb blast and due to head impact somewhere in the escape hatch of the vehicle".

The PPP, after coming into power in February, requested the UN to probe the killing but there has been no progress on this so far and neither has the government registered a case relating to the assassination.

Some disgruntled elements within the PPP says that the government of Bhutto's own party is least interested in opening up the case as it came to power "after a deal with the military regime of Musharraf""

"No one in the government has the time to reopen the case as they have their own petty interests," said a PPP leader, requesting anonymity. He was of the view that it won't take more than a month to reach the assassins if sincere efforts were made.

"I believe even ordinary police officers can investigate and reach the assassins if they are given a free hand," said the leader, who has been sidelined by the present PPP leadership but was considered close to Bhutto.

A recent investigative report by GEO television shows that Bhutto was attacked from three sides and one of the assassins seen in the videos fired at her from the left side but the cause of her death was a wound on the right side of her head.

According to the security plan, Bhutto was not supposed to come out of the sunroof but after seeing her supporters cheering her, she stood out from the sunroof.

Naheed Khan, Bhutto's political secretary, and the PPP's Amin Fahim, both of whom were also present in the car, said that no one had asked her to do so. "No one asked her to do so, she just wanted to wave back to the crowd as she was very happy that day," said Fahim.

Ibn-e-Rizvi, the organiser of Bhutto's last rally in Rawalpindi expressed his astonishment on the change of the route. "Benazir had to turn left as the route was decided by the administration but instead her car turned right, I don't know who ordered the change of the route," Ibn-e-Rizvi wondered.

Raja Riaz and Tariq Saeed, both of whom lost their limbs in the tragedy, claimed that different persons were involved in the blast and firing. It was also established that the firing was not from one side. There was firing from the buildings and plazas surrounding the Liaquat Bagh, claimed Gul Bahadur Khan, another eyewitness.

On the other hand, Lt-Gen (retd) Hamid Nawaz, former caretaker minister for interior, said that Asif Zardari had not allowed the authorities to conduct an autopsy on Bhutto's body. He also refuted the claims of the eyewitnesses about any security lapses that day.

"Some 1,300 police personnel were deployed, walk-through gates were installed at the entrance, bulletproof rostrum was provided and the police had cordoned off the area two days prior to the procession," he said.

The GEO report said that the investigations into the murder would remain incomplete if Musharraf was not questioned. But, the report said that the government has given an assurance to the head of a friendly country that no action against Musharraf will be taken and that is why the government is depending upon the UN to investigate the assassination.

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