ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Nearly half of Pakistanis believe government agencies or government-allied politicians were involved in opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a poll found, as President Pervez Musharraf again dismissed such suspicion.
Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack on December 27 as she was leaving an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi.
The government has blamed al Qaeda-linked militants for her death and for a string of other bomb attacks in recent months, many on the security forces, which have killed hundreds of people.
Bhutto, who was seen as close to the United States and was a staunch opponent of militancy, had said al Qaeda had tried to kill her in the past.
She would have been an obvious target of the militants, who were reported to have issued suicide-bomb threats against her before she returned from exile in October.
But many Pakistanis don’t believe militants killed her.
According to a poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan, and seen by Reuters on Sunday, only 17 percent of 1,300 people from across the country surveyed thought the Taliban or al Qaeda killed the two-time prime minister.
Twenty-three percent of those surveyed suspected government agencies were involved while 25 percent suspected politicians allied with the government.
Twelve percent of people suspected the United States was responsible for her death and 4 percent suspected India was behind it, the poll found.
Musharraf, himself the target of at least two bomb attacks, had already dismissed suggestions he, the security agencies or military were involved in killing his old rival as “a joke.”
An apparently exasperated Musharraf again rejected the suspicion in an interview with Newsweek magazine.
“I refuse to listen to such accusations. I refuse to. I am the government, OK?,” he said.
“May I ask you, would you, if you were at the head of affairs, ever think of killing somebody like that? It didn’t appear in our minds,” he said.
Musharraf has asked British police to help in the investigation of Bhutto’s killing but he has ruled out a U.N. inquiry, as demanded by Bhutto’s party.
Bhutto wrote to Musharraf before she returned from exile, giving the names of three people, including a political ally of Musharraf’s and the head of a security agency, she said should be investigated if anything happened to her.
But Musharraf, when asked if those people would be investigated, told reporters investigators would not be allowed to go on a “wild goose chase.”
The assassination and violence it incited has compounded fears about prospects for the nuclear-armed U.S. ally in the run-up to general elections on February 18.
The elections, for a lower house of parliament from which a prime minister and government will be drawn, and for provincial assemblies, are meant to complete a transition to civilian rule.
Pakistan’s allies hope the polls, which were meant to have taken place on January 8 but were put off after Bhutto’s killing, will promote stability but that is far from certain.
The party that backs Musharraf is expected to suffer losses, especially after Bhutto’s killing inflamed anger against the president and his allies.
A parliament dominated by Bhutto’s party and an allied opposition party could even move to impeach Musharraf over his maneuvers to secure another term as president.
Musharraf, a former army chief who came to power in a 1999 coup, said in interviews last week he would resign if his opponents tried to impeach him or if the majority of the people did not want him in power.