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January 2, 2008
Pakistani Government Changes its Tune on Bhutto Killing
The government of Pakistan has done an about face and now says that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was not killed when she hit her head on a sun roof lever:
Caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan has asked the media and people to "forgive and ignore" comments made by his ministry's spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema which were slammed by her Pakistan People's Party as "lies" and led to an uproar at home and abroad. They offered a pretty lame explanation for the "confusion:"
The Interior Minister made the apology during a briefing for Pakistani newspaper editors on Monday. Punjab province on Tuesday issued a front-page advertisement in newspapers that offered a reward of Rs 1 crore for information about a gunman and a suspected suicide bomber seen in the photos and video footage of the assassination.
The government's apparent damage control exercise on Cheema's comments made at a news conference a day after Bhutto was assassinated at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on December 27, came after TV channels aired privately shot photos and video footage which showed a gunman shooting at Bhutto. The Pakistan People's Party leader is seen in the footage falling through the sun-roof before the suicide bomber detonated his explosives.
The briefing by caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro was also attended by the foreign, interior and information ministers and senior officials.
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 the interior minister and spokesman Cheema are retired army officers. So how did Bhutto die? The government still isn't saying definitively but it would appear that they are giving credence to reports that Bhutto was shot to death. The question is will they dare make that announcement?
"I am sorry if that happened and please forgive us and ignore the comment," he told the editors. Earlier, Prime Minister Soomro 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 TV footage, all evidence, that would be available will help in reaching a definite conclusion," Soomro told the editors.
Most analysts think that President Musharraf is reluctant to admit to the possibility of gunshots killing Bhutto because it would give impetus to the charge that his government provided inadequate security to the former prime minister. Indeed, the video of the two assassins shows them easily getting by the few soldiers who were there for Bhutto's protection. There has even been some sources in the government who have admitted that the military was probably involved in the assassination.
Musharraf is still resisting an international investigation into the murder. Whether they can keep that up is up to the United States. So far, we've supported Musharraf, believing that there is very little choice given the danger of who might replace him if we didn't. But if the Pakistani government makes us look like fools for standing behind them, they shouldn't expect that support to be absolute.