How Bhutto Died

Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest Friday evening in her ancestral hometown of Larkana, her grave surrounded by thousands of anguished supporters who thronged to the rural town in Sindh province to pay their respects to the assassinated former prime minister. While her family and party stayed silent, the government of President Pervez Musharraf rushed to defuse nationwide anger at what many Pakistanis believe to be either the complicity or, more charitably, the incompetence of the regime.

The doctors who treated Bhutto at Rawalpindi's state-run General Hospital held a televised press conference to refute reports that her death had been caused by bullets or shrapnel from the suicide bombing. "There were no wounds on her neck and no exit wound in her head," said one of the doctors. The official version blames Bhutto's death on a fatal blow. At a press conference in Islamabad and later on state-owned television, Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Cheema showed video footage of a beaming Bhutto seconds before she was killed, along with photographs of her blood-stained vehicle. He said Bhutto died when her head struck the sunroof doors of her customized SUV. "Three bullets were fired but missed her," he said. "She was ducking or was thrown by the shockwaves from the explosion, and her head struck one of the levers of the sunroof."

Bhutto had appeared through the sunroof of her armored SUV to wave at supporters at the end of her election rally in Pakistan's military capital, Rawalpindi. The government's finding contradicts eyewitness accounts by Bhutto's aides, who said that two bullets struck Bhutto in the head and neck before the assassin detonated himself.

"We provided excellent security to Ms. Bhutto, but our expert advice was ignored by her," Cheema told reporters. While Bhutto's party has avoided pointing fingers, Cheema blamed militant tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud for the Oct. 18 suicide attacks on Bhutto's homecoming procession (which Mehsud has denied) and for Bhutto's assassination. "Look, it is horrible, but everyone wanted to kill her," Cheema said. He read what he said was the transcript of a purported phone call that took place late Dec. 27 between Mehsud and a Waziristan-based cleric. According to the transcript, without referring specifically to Bhutto or her murder, Mehsud and the cleric congratulate each other. The cleric then names two "brave boys" who "did the work," and Mehsud and the cleric work out, in surprising detail, a future meeting in Waziristan. "It's been so long, we must meet," says Mehsud, according to the transcript presented by the government.

Although the case is "solved," Cheema said, the government has ordered judicial and police inquiries into the assassination to put a stop to "conspiracy theories and speculative reporting." Cheema also accused Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who arrived in Islamabad early Friday morning with his three children, of attempting to prevent Bhutto's official autopsy.

Up until the day she died, Bhutto had been demanding an independent and international investigation into the Oct. 18 attack. Bhutto's family and party are unlikely to accept the results of any investigation or inquiry conducted under Musharraf. Cheema insisted that foreign forensics experts would not be required. "Have faith in your own intelligence agencies," he chided a reporter. "We're very professional. These same foreign countries come to us for help and depend on our expertise," he said.

Bhutto is now buried alongside her father, another former prime minister, who was hanged 28 years ago on the orders of military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. His execution did not provoke the sort of reaction hers has; the funeral prayers for Bhutto at mosques throughout the country on Friday afternoon brought some reprieve from violence. At least 20 deaths were reported and hundreds of shops, banks, government offices, private businesses and police stations were set ablaze by mobs. Schools, banks and businesses were ordered closed by the government on Thursday, rail and air travel remain suspended, and the army has been given shoot-on-sight orders to combat violent protestors in Sindh. Music video channels suspended programming in favor of prayers. Like other Musharraf loyalists, the former chief minister of Punjab, Pervaiz Elahi, who had been vying to become Pakistan's next prime minister, has gone underground. The ruling party's election rallies have been canceled indefinitely out of fear of retaliation. In death, as in life, Bhutto is proving an indomitable adversary.

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