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Pakistan: Will we ever know who killed Bhutto?

Pakistanis still don

Pakistanis still don’t know what to believe about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, said the Islamabad Daily Times in an editorial. Was the former prime minister really killed, as the government claims, by Islamic extremists? Or did the regime of President Pervez Musharraf, desperate to cling to power, play a role? Mere hours after Bhutto was murdered last month at a political rally, the Musharraf regime came out with its official story—or rather, stories. “Tripping over itself to establish al Qaida as the culprit,” the government first said that shrapnel from a suicide bomb killed Bhutto. It claimed it had intercepted a phone call from a Pakistani Taliban chieftain claiming responsibility for the assassination. That theory was discredited when an amateur video emerged showing a gunman firing and hitting Bhutto; Islamists don’t use snipers in attacks, they use martyrs. So the government changed its story, claiming that Bhutto, who was standing up through the sunroof of her armored car, had banged her head on the sunroof lever and died of the resulting skull wound. “For standing up outside the car, I think it was she to blame alone,” Musharraf told an American TV interviewer this week. “Responsibility is hers.”

That’s the most idiotic thing I ever heard, said Farhan Bokhari in the Karachi Dawn. Blaming Bhutto’s death on “a lethal lever in the sunroof of a Toyota Land Cruiser” is “a frivolous way to demean a major tragedy.” Virtually nobody in Pakistan now trusts the Musharraf regime. It’s not that we think the president actually ordered Bhutto’s assassination. But her party, the Pakistan People’s Party, has made a persuasive argument that Musharraf blocked efforts to provide for her security. At this point, Musharraf’s goal isn’t to find out who killed Bhutto, or to calm the panicked country, but simply to save his own skin. Fortunately, he won’t be in charge of the investigation into the murder. Britain has offered the services of Scotland Yard, and Musharraf was smart enough to accept.

But what can Scotland Yard really do? asked the Islamabad News International. The physical evidence is gone. In an “astonishing” and highly suspicious display of efficiency, the crime scene was “washed down with giant hoses” within hours of the murder, and Bhutto’s body was buried the next day in accordance with Muslim tradition. The government’s claims that forensic material had already been collected “obviously lack all credibility.” In such a context, British investigators can achieve little—and maybe that’s the point. Bhutto’s party believes that Scotland Yard’s involvement is meant to give a mere veneer of independence to what will ultimately be a whitewash.

We may never know who killed Bhutto, said Farooq Hassan in the Islamabad Nation, but one thing is clear: The U.S. bears a share of blame for her death. “It was clearly the moral responsibility of Washington to ensure Benazir’s safety.” Exiled for years after being deposed by Musharraf’s military coup, Bhutto returned to Pakistan only as a result of a U.S.-brokered deal through which she would share power with Musharraf. The U.S. wanted to use Bhutto, “the heir to Pakistan’s most powerful political dynasty,” to shore up the legitimacy of Musharraf, increasingly unpopular but still seen as a key American ally in the war on terror. For two months before her death, Bhutto had begged the U.S. State Department to give her official protection, only to be rebuffed with assurances “that Musharraf would not let anything happen to her.” How hollow those assurances ring now.

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