Wary of Pakistani Officials, Bhutto's Son and Successor Urges U.N. to Probe Killing
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
LONDON, Jan. 8 -- The son of slain Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto called Tuesday for a U.N.-backed investigation of his mother's death, saying that Pakistani authorities had failed to provide her with adequate security and that he did not trust them to solve her murder.
"We do not believe that an investigation under the authority of the Pakistani government has the necessary transparency. Already so much forensic evidence has been destroyed," Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a 19-year-old Oxford University student, told a London news conference in his first extensive public comments since the Dec. 27 assassination.
"It is our belief that had she been provided with adequate protection she would be alive today," said Zardari, who was chosen to succeed his mother as leader of the Pakistan People's Party. His father, Asif Ali Zardari, will run the party while his son finishes his studies.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he was "a bit nervous" at the packed news conference and asked for privacy when he returns to Oxford to work on his undergraduate degree. He said he had been "distressed" by media attention, particularly through the Internet social networking site Facebook.
He calmly defended his party's controversial decision to pass its leadership on to a teenager who has spent little time in his native country. "I was called, and I stepped up and did what I was asked to do," he said, adding that the party leadership "wasn't passed on like some piece of family furniture -- they asked me to do it, and I did."
"It was a moment of crisis," he said, referring to the violence that followed his mother's killing in a suicide attack at a political rally in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. "Pakistan was burning. We needed to show a united front, and we needed to quell the violence."
Zardari opened the 15-minute news conference by reading from a prepared statement, saying: "Why have I become chairman of the Pakistan People's Party founded by my grandfather 40 years ago? The answer to this question is because it was recognized at this moment in crisis the party needed a close association with my mother through the bloodline. Also it was important to give hope to the new generation of Pakistanis who are looking not just to these elections but beyond."
"Politics is also in my blood," he said. "And although I admit that my experience to date is limited, I intend to learn. Unless I can finish my education and develop enough maturity, I recognize that I will never be in a position to have sufficient wisdom to enter the political arena."
He showed a flash of emotion only once, when asked about his family's and his party's future in Pakistan.
"There's a Pakistani slogan that says, 'How many Bhuttos can you kill?' " he said. "From every house a Bhutto will come."
Zardari was critical of the United States and its support of President Pervez Musharraf. The Bush administration had sought to support Musharraf, an ally in the war against Islamic extremists, by encouraging him to share power with Bhutto. She attended Radcliffe and Oxford and was seen in Washington as a proponent of democracy in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 165 million people.
"I believe that the problem is that dictatorships feed extremism, and once the United States stops supporting dictators, we can successfully tackle the extremist problem as well," Zardari said.
In Pakistan, Musharraf said Tuesday that his government was committed to "unearthing the evidence, finding out the truth and bringing those responsible for this heinous crime to justice," according to news reports. He also met with a small team of investigators dispatched to Pakistan by Scotland Yard at Musharraf's request.
Government officials have blamed al-Qaeda for the killing, but Bhutto supporters have said they suspect government involvement in the plot.
Zardari said it was important for Pakistani elections to proceed as scheduled on Feb. 18. Those elections, originally set for Tuesday, were delayed six weeks amid the turmoil following Bhutto's assassination.
"I fear for my country," Zardari said. "I fear if free and fair elections are not held it may disintegrate."