Musharraf Delivers a Fierce Denial

Pakistanis pay their respects to Benazir Bhutto at Liaqat Bagh Park in Rawalpindi, the site of the former Pakisitani prime minister's final speech and assassination.
By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 4, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 3 -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday vehemently denied that he or his government played any role in the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and instead blamed her for not heeding warnings to take extra precautions.

A week after Bhutto's assassination, Musharraf bristled at the suggestion -- often made by Bhutto supporters -- that he or his allies had had a hand in her death, saying the government lacked both the means and the motive.

"I have been brought up in a very educated and civilized family which believes in values, which believes in principles, which believes in character," he said at a news conference for foreign journalists held at the president's house. "My family is not a family which believes in killing people."

Musharraf added that he did not think the nation's powerful intelligence services were capable of recruiting someone to carry out a suicide bombing against Bhutto.

Instead, he again pinned responsibility on Islamic extremists, citing Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah, two pro-Taliban commanders who have created armies of radical followers in the country's restive northwest.

Bhutto's followers have focused their suspicions on several people with either past or present ties to Musharraf, four of whom Bhutto had named in a letter to the president as enemies plotting to kill her. One of those she implicated was Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, a former chief minister of Punjab province and a likely candidate for prime minister if Musharraf's allies do well enough in next month's elections to form a government.

But Musharraf said that the allegation that Elahi, or anyone else from the government, had participated in the attack was "baseless," and that Scotland Yard investigators he had invited to probe the matter would not be pursuing that possibility.

"I would like to know how she died, ultimately," Musharraf said. "But I will not like anyone to go on a wild-goose chase and start creating a disturbance."

Sherry Rehman, spokeswoman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, accused Musharraf of trying to set the terms of Scotland Yard's investigation before it had even begun. "It's not for him to decide what's a wild-goose chase," she said.

Appearing jovial and confident while admitting that his country is in "crisis," Musharraf said he decided to invite British investigators because he was not satisfied with the work of Pakistan's own security services. He pointed to their decision to wash down the site minutes after the attack occurred and before forensic evidence could be collected. But he called that choice an example of "inefficiency" rather than an indication of anything nefarious.

"They didn't do it with the intention of hiding secrets," he said.

Since Bhutto's death, the nation has been deep in turmoil. She was killed while leaving a rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, and the news sparked three days of riots. The resulting damage led the election commission on Wednesday to delay by six weeks a long-awaited vote that had been slated for Tuesday. Pakistanis will now go to the polls to elect a new Parliament on Feb. 18.

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