Bhutto's Son Asks for U.N.-Backed Investigation of Assassination

Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 10:13 AM

LONDON, Jan. 8 -- The son of slain Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto on Tuesday called for a U.N.-backed investigation of his mother's death, saying that Pakistani authorities failed to provide her with adequate security and 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, although his father, Asif Ali Zardari, will run the party while his son finishes his studies.

Zardari said he was "a bit nervous" at the packed news conference and asked for privacy while he returns to Oxford to work on his undergraduate degree. He said he had been "distressed" by media attention, particularly through the Internet networking site, Facebook.

He calmly defended his party's controversial decision to pass its leadership on in a family succession 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 angry violence that followed his mother's murder by a gunman and a suicide bomber at a political rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. "Pakistan was burning. We needed to show a united front and we needed to quell the violence."

He said he would assume his role as party leader "gradually and carefully." His mother, a former prime minister, he said, had taught him extensively about Pakistan politics, but, "we did hope this day would not come as soon as it did."

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? From every house a Bhutto will come,' " he said.

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