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Home > News > PTI

Pak government flip-flops on cause of Bhutto's death

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad | January 01, 2008 14:51 IST
Last Updated: January 01, 2008 18:05 IST

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Pakistan's caretaker government on Tuesday clarified that it still stood by the 'factual position' that ex-Premier Benzair Bhutto died of a skull fracture and not from a bullet wound, a contention challenged by the party of the slain leader.

The clarification came from Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan, who was earlier quoted by the media as urging people to 'forgive and ignore' comments made by his ministry's spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema that Bhutto had struck her head on a metal lever on the sun-roof of her armoured Toyota Land Cruiser, resulting in a fatal skull fracture.

But Khan on Tuesday said his apology was only for some 'crude words' that the spokesman had used and it had 'no effect on the factual position' taken by the government.

Asked by Dawn News channel if the Interior Ministry still believed Bhutto was not shot, Khan replied: "So far, that is the position."

"There is no change in the factual position," he said, adding the investigation into Bhutto's death 'is going to take some time.'

However, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party leaders insist that she died of a gunshot wound after addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi on Thursday last.

Meanwhile, the Home Department of Punjab province on Tuesday issued a front-page advertisement in newspapers offering a reward of Rs 1 crore for information about the gunman and the suspected suicide bomber seen in the photos and video footage of the assassination.

The advertisement included a photo of the suspected assailants and another of the severed head of the suspected bomber.

The advertisement said 'the public is hereby informed that the two individuals in the above photograph are the accused terrorists in the Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi terror attack, which resulted in the death of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto [Images] and others. The government of Punjab has announced a cash award of Rs 1 crore for lead information and any solid evidence.'

It said the names of persons providing any information would be kept 'strictly confidential.' It also sought the cooperation of people for 'dismantling of terrorist network.'

Cheema's comments that Bhutto died after hitting her head on a metal lever in her car were made at a news conference a day after she was assassinated at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on December 27.

The comments created a uproar after television channels obtained privately shot photos and video footage which showed a gunman shooting at Bhutto. The PPP leader is seen in the footage falling through the sun-roof before the suicide bomber detonated his explosives.

Interior Minister Khan 'apologised' for Cheema's comments during a briefing for Pakistani newspaper editors on Monday. The briefing by caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro was also attended by the foreign and information ministers and senior officials.

"Editor after editor lambasted the government for its non-serious attitude towards the tragedy, specially the statement that Bhutto had died by hitting the lever and not (due to) a bullet or shrapnel," The News reported.

During the briefing, Soomro first tried to defend the interior ministry's spokesman, saying he was just relaying facts that had been told to him, especially about the cause of death. "We are conducting an investigation and all television footage, all evidence that would be available will help in reaching a definite conclusion," Soomro said.

However, the editors asked more questions, especially with reference to the medical report of doctors of Rawalpindi General Hospital who treated Bhutto. They emphatically pointed out that the report quoted by the spokesman never mentioned the cause of the head injury to Bhutto.

The report only said there was a skull fracture, which caused cardio-pulmonary arrest, the editors pointed out.

Soomro then referred the issue to Interior Minister Khan. He explained in detail the security measures taken and asserted that Bhutto had a bulletproof vehicle, which could not be damaged by a bomb or bullets.

Once she was inside it, she was secure and police vans were trying to keep her car clear of other vehicles. But when she emerged from the sun-roof she exposed herself to an attack. "Nothing would have happened to her even if every one in the world had wanted to hurt her," Khan said.

An editor then asked why spokesman Cheema had said that a lever on the sun-roof had caused a fatal injury when the manufacturers of the car and Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari had stated that there was no metallic lever that could have caused the wound.

Khan said the spokesman's comments may have been a mistake as 'we are faujis (soldiers) and we are not so articulate to present our views as you journalists can.' Both interior minister and Cheema are retired army officers.      

"I am sorry if that happened and please forgive us and ignore the comment," he told the editors.

Soomro was repeatedly asked whether he would allow a foreign investigation into the murder but he asserted that Pakistani experts were competent to do the job. His denial raised questions from the editors about the offer made by President Pervez Musharraf [Images] to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to consider foreign help in probing the assassination.

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