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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 15:30 GMT
UK police fail to quell Bhutto doubts

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Islamabad

Benazir Bhutto
Ms Bhutto at her final election rally

Scotland Yard's report into the murder of Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is likely to fuel, rather than settle, the controversies surrounding the issue.

British investigators said on Friday they believed Ms Bhutto was killed by the bomb blast and not a bullet.

They also said there was possibly only one assassin and not a group who carried out the attack.

Ms Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) says it will give a detailed response to Scotland Yard's report after its lawyers and the central executive committee have debated it.

But the initial response from party members suggest that is unlikely that the party will be satisfied with what the British sleuths have come up with.

Seeing is believing

The inquiry report's findings have come as a bit of a shock for many Pakistanis.

The only tenable cause... [is] impact due to the effects of the bomb blast
Dr Nathaniel Cary
British Home Office pathologist

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A number of amateur videos of the assassination, some made with cell phones, have been aired on local TV channels since 27 December last year when Ms Bhutto was brought down.

Some of then clearly show that she had fallen inside the vehicle a few seconds before the suicide bomber blew himself up.

Eyewitness reports aired locally over the last six weeks also mention several gunshots from different directions suggesting that a number of would be assassins may have been at work.

The Scotland Yard report does not explain either the content of the videos or the statements from eyewitnesses.

That could be one reason why the Scotland Yard report may perhaps fall short of the credibility that British investigators otherwise command in Pakistan.

But it won't be the only one.

Three suspects

Since the Scotland Yard team landed in Pakistan on January 4 this year, the PPP has been consistently dismissive of its mission.

A victim of the Rawalpindi attack is carried to an ambulance
A victim of the Rawalpindi attack is carried to an ambulance

It has criticised the limited scope of the terms of reference agreed between the Pakistani and British governments.

The terms restricted the British team's inquiry to determining the cause of Ms Bhutto's death and to lend whatever technical assistance Pakistani investigators asked for.

The PPP has repeatedly said Scotland Yard was dragged into the investigations to sidestep the party's main demand - that their leader's death be probed by an international team under the United Nations.

Party leaders say that is the only hope they have of getting the three men named by Ms Bhutto as the possible plotters of her murder, properly investigated.

Ms Bhutto wrote a letter to President Pervez Musharraf on 16 October last year, saying three men who were important players in the president's camp were plotting her death.

Their names were never released to the media but have been the subject of a country-wide guessing game ever since.

And that may be the main reason why the party seems to be laying so much emphasis on what actually caused Ms Bhutto's death.

Modus operandi

Ms Bhutto's supporters believe that a credible determination of the real cause of death may provide valuable insights to the identity of her killers.

Crowds flock to the Bhutto mausoleum
PPP supporters have been flocking to the Bhutto mausoleum

Folk wisdom that has evolved around the various shades of militancy in Pakistan over the years roughly divides the militants into three broad categories.

Pakistanis believe that suicide bombings are synonymous with the Taleban, multiple shooters carry the hallmark of al-Qaeda while trained snipers smack of Islamist militants trained by the Pakistani security establishment for Pakistan's proxy war with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

If it can somehow be proven that Ms Bhutto was killed by a trained sniper, it would help the PPP convince its supporters that there was some element of collusion between Ms Bhutto's murderer, or murderers, and mavericks within President Musharraf's administration who were determined to get rid of her.

Such an impression could be invaluable for a party hurtling towards a general election on 18 February that is already riddled with bitterness and bad blood between all the main contenders.

But what the PPP is faced with now is foreign investigators essentially supporting the government's initial account of Ms Bhutto's death, suggesting that President Musharraf is right and the PPP is wrong.

For the PPP, a party hoping to ride a sympathy wave to victory in the, this is a hugely unwelcome dampener.

Meanwhile, observers say this is exactly the kind of political mire that was expected after Ms Bhutto's assassination.

The real focus, it seems, has already shifted from how she died or who killed her, to how her assassination can be milked for maximum political gains.

Profile: Baitullah Mehsud
28 Dec 07 |  South Asia
Pakistan foils 'Ashura attacks'
19 Jan 08 |  South Asia

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