Another Political Whodunit For Pakistan's Lengthy List

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 30, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 29 -- Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Many Pakistanis fear that the former prime minister's assassination Thursday will remain yet another unsolved political mystery.

Gathered around television sets in homes, offices and tea shops, hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis watched one of the most dramatic events in Pakistan's history unfold: the assassination of Bhutto, 54, as she waved to supporters from the sunroof of her white, bulletproof sport-utility vehicle.

But many say the most disturbing image came in the minutes after Bhutto was killed: Live broadcasts showed workers hosing down the street to wash away the blood and, with it, vital DNA evidence of a suicide bomber.

"It was done so matter-of-fact, like they were watering a garden," said Fazil Javaid, an international lawyer who once worked for Bhutto. "I thought, 'There goes the answer to all of the Pakistan people's questions and the world's questions.' But let's look at Pakistani history. Since the creation of Pakistan, the country's political killings are always filled with intrigue and questions of whodunit? We may never know."

The list of political killings in Pakistan resembles the twists and turns of a long-running soap opera.

Bhutto was killed in the same public park in the city of Rawalpindi where another Pakistani prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was gunned down in 1951.

Bhutto's father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was president from 1971 to 1973 and prime minister until 1977, when he was overthrown in a coup by Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who ordered his execution in 1979. Zia was killed in 1988 in a mysterious plane crash, though some diplomats say he was assassinated.

In 1985, the younger of Bhutto's two brothers, Shahnawaz, was poisoned in the French Riviera. No one was charged with his murder. Her other brother, Murtaza, was assassinated in 1996, a case that also remains unsolved.

Adding to the mystery surrounding Benazir Bhutto's death, on Saturday night Dawn News aired photos taken by an amateur photographer Thursday showing two people apparently involved in the attack. A cleanshaven suspect wearing sunglasses is shown pointing a handgun at Bhutto from behind the suspected bomber. The image supports theories that two people were involved in her killing.

Bhutto, the world's first female leader of a Muslim country, narrowly survived an assassination attempt in October during her jubilant homecoming after years in exile. More than 140 people were killed in coordinated bombings. Police have not resolved that case, and crowds were seen picking through debris and walking about at the crime scene.

"Where there is no confidence in the system, there are even more conspiracies, and Pakistan has more conspiracy theories than anywhere else," said Saad Haroon, a political commentator. "The sad thing is, the truth never comes out. . . . We move on, we live. If you dwell on everything in Pakistan, you could just wallow in grief in this country. It's become sort of the thing we expect."

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party has blamed President Pervez Musharraf and his government for her death. Government officials say they have evidence that a pro-Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, orchestrated the attacks.

Mehsud's spokesman called the allegation "government propaganda."

An Interior Ministry spokesman, retired Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, said Friday that Bhutto had not been killed by bullets or shrapnel, as doctors had said, but died after hitting her head on a sunroof lever in her SUV as the bomb went off.

Sherry Rehman, the spokeswoman for Bhutto's party, told news services that she had witnessed the shooting and that Cheema was wrong.

"She was even bleeding while we were bathing her for the burial," she said. "The government is now trying to say she concussed herself, which is ludicrous. It is really dangerous nonsense."

For many Pakistanis, the debate over what happened is being eclipsed by fear.

At a crowded hotel in Lahore, a couple said they had traveled across the country to attend a wedding but were unable to leave their room because of looting. Now they were stuck in Lahore, with many flights canceled and gas stations closed.

"What do we tell our children and the next generation of Pakistan?" lamented Ambreen Vellani, 38, director of a nursery school, as she ate breakfast with her 4-year-old son. "The political murder mysteries end up hurting our lives and this country's future."

Correspondent Griff Witte in Karachi and special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company