Sunday, November 30, 2008

Q&A: the murder of Benazir Bhutto

How did Benazir Bhutto die?
The Government initially said that Ms Bhutto died from a massive head injury sustained when the force of the bomb blast threw the lever of the sunroof against her head as she was trying to duck back into her vehicle.
However, this theory has been debunked since photographs and amateur video footage clearly showed Ms Bhutto disappearing into her vehicle after the shots and before the blast. Family members and aides who washed her body have also said that they clearly saw a bullet wound on her head. Witnesses of the attack also say they saw Ms Bhutto being shot. Doctors who treated Ms Bhutto in her final hours say authorities have ordered them to remain silent and to destroy records of her treatment. Officials from her Pakistan People's Party accuse the government of trying to cover up evidence pointing either to its involvement in the assassination or to the failure of its security arrangements.

Was the Pakistani Government involved?
It denies playing any role in Ms Bhutto's assassination. But many of her family members and PPP officials say they believe that conservative elements of the security services, especially the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, were involved in some way. They point to senior ISI officers who they believe embraced radical Islam while coordinating US support for the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Those same officers maintain close links to Islamist militants and regarded Ms Bhutto as too secular and close to the West. Among those often named are Hamid Gul, a retired general who served as head of the ISI in Ms Bhutto’s first term as Prime Minister. He has dismissed the allegations as "bunkum."

Whom did Ms Bhutto herself suspect?
Before she returned from eight years of self-exile two months ago, Bhutto wrote to Musharraf naming several individuals who should be investigated if anything happened to her. PPP officials say they included Mr Gul (the former ISI chief), Ijaz Shah (the head of the civilian Intelligence Bureau), Pervez Elahi (the former Punjab Chief Minister), Arbab Ghulam Rahimand ( the former Sindh chief minister) and Hassan Afzal, former Deputy Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). In October, Ms Bhutto also revealed that her lawyer had received a letter, signed by a "friend of al-Qaeda" which threatened to slaughter her like a goat. However, she said she had more fear from unidentified members of a power structure that she described as allies of the “forces of militancy”.

Q&A: the murder of Benazir Bhutto

What happened during the attack?

The Government says that it was carried out by a gunman working in conjunction with a suicide bomber, whose head was found at the site. Photographs taken by a member of the crowd clearly show a clean-shaven young man in dark glasses, a white shirt and a dark waist coat, shooting a pistol at Ms Bhutto from next to her vehicle. One picture shows another man with a white shawl over his head standing behind the gunman and a Pakistani television station has identified the second man as the bomber. Amateur video footage shows the gunman firing at least three shots and an explosion engulfing the vehicle seconds later.

However, there is still no clear evidence to show if the shooter was also the bomber, if there was a second person who detonated himself, or if the explosion was triggered by remote control. The government has shown images of what it says is the bomber's reconcstructed head, but it is still not clear if the gunman's body has been found. Much evidence was destroyed when authorities washed the blast site with high pressure hoses on the same night that Ms Bhutto died.