Pakistan said Friday police would launch a new probe into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto after a U.N. report blamed security forces for failing to protect her – accusations dismissed as a “pack of lies” by an aide to ex-President Pervez Musharraf.
Bhutto, a former prime minister, was killed in a December 27, 2007, gun and suicide-bomb attack as she was leaving a rally in Rawalpindi city, where she was campaigning to return her Pakistan People’s Party to power in elections after returning from nearly nine years in self-imposed exile.
The slaying was the latest in a long line of high-profile political assassinations in Pakistan and convulsed the country, which was then ruled by Mr. Musharraf and battered. Supporters of Bhutto immediately hinted that Mr. Musharraf or his allies in the powerful and largely unaccountable security forces may have played a role.
The three-member U.N. panel, which was not tasked with unmasking the killers, said Bhutto’s death could have been avoided if Mr. Musharraf’s government and security agencies had taken adequate measures. It also found that the probe into her death was deliberately hampered by intelligence agencies.
The report, issued Thursday, was highly critical of a decision made within hours of the killing to hose down the crime scene and not to conduct an autopsy.
The report was hailed by the PPP, which now governs Pakistan and is led by President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower. Mr. Zardari’s aide Farahnaz Ispahani said “the report will pave the way for a proper police investigation and possible penal proceedings.”
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the report backed up the PPP’s belief that Mr. Musharraf or his allies were responsible for Bhutto’s death. But Mr. Musharraf’s aide Rashid Qureshi insisted the U.N. report was based on rumours and that Mr. Musharraf, currently living abroad, was not responsible.
“This chief U.N. investigator was not the relative of Sherlock Homes,” Mr. Qureshi told The Associated Press. “It is a pack of lies.”
He added that Bhutto exposed herself to the risk even after the head of the country’s most powerful spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence, warned her not to attend the rally because of threats of an attack.
Mr. Musharraf’s government blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant commander with links to al Qaeda. Officials at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also reportedly said Mehsud, who was killed in a missile strike last August, was the chief suspect.