- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

LAHORE, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf last night ordered the army to the streets of Pakistan ahead of delayed parliamentary elections, and he accepted a British — but not a U.S. — offer to help investigate the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Photos: Unrest in Pakistan

“I had no intention to deploy the army in the country during the elections but now, due to the law-and-order situation, in my opinion it has become vital to utilize the army and the Rangers,” a somber Mr. Musharraf said in his first address to the nation since the Dec. 27 killing of Mrs. Bhutto.

Mr. Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism appealed for national unity while announcing a six week postponement of elections, originally set for Tuesday.

With the new election date set for Feb. 18, the former general and army chief appealed for national unity to confront terrorism.

“We must unite and struggle against it with more vigor and energy. If we do not succeed, then, God forbid, Pakistan’s future is black,” Mr. Musharraf said.

Opposition political parties, including Mrs. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), repeated demands that the election go ahead as scheduled but said they would participate despite the delay.

Mr. Musharraf also reversed himself and agreed to let Britain’s Scotland Yard “assist our investigators.”

“This is a very significant investigation. All the confusion that has been created in the nation must be resolved,” Mr. Musharraf said in a brief, prerecorded appearance on state television.

The British police agency immediately accepted the invitation.

PPP spokeswoman Sherry Rehman, who rode in the vehicle that transported a profusely bleeding Mrs. Bhutto to the hospital after the attack, repeated demands for a U.N.-led investigation.

“The tragedy is of such a magnitude, we want a U.N. probe.” Scotland Yard, she told The Washington Times, “could be a part” of such a probe.

“She was hemorrhaging from a very serious head wound,” Ms. Rehman said. “She had a very grievous head injury. It was one that killed her. Her brain matter was oozing out.”

Much of the evidence was destroyed by Pakistani authorities, who washed away blood from the assassination site shortly after the attack in Rawalpindi, a suburb of Islamabad.

Mrs. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, refused to let Pakistani authorities conduct an autopsy, fearing it would exacerbate a government cover-up.

Physicians who treated Mrs. Bhutto and initially reported the cause of death as a wound to the neck and head — by bullets or shrapnel — said they had been pressured by the government to change their account.

The Pakistani government pointedly did not accept an offer from the U.S. to aid the investigation.

“No request for help was made to the U.S. government,” a Pakistani official told The Times. “Scotland Yard is a very professional team.”

The U.S. had earlier waged a high-profile campaign for Mr. Musharraf and Mrs. Bhutto to form a political alliance — an effort that had collapsed prior to the assassination of the former prime minister.

Mr. Musharraf promised yesterday that elections would be held in a “free, fair, transparent and peaceful manner,” a claim that skeptical opposition leaders said they doubted, given the nation’s history of electoral fraud.

Alaeem Pervez, an elderly taxi driver in the nation’s cultural capital of Lahore, said he thinks the elections are already rigged, and the postponement will further serve Mr. Musharraf’s party and its candidates.

Every day of delay, Mr. Pervez said, “will allow this government to do things, to take the election and save face.”

In electricity-starved Lahore, a city gripped by rolling blackouts, people watched the president on televisions powered by generators or listened on battery-operated radios.

“Musharraf has to go,” said one man, watching the broadcast with a wary frown in one Lahore’s tiny tearooms.

“The economy is very bad, and prices go up. And people are shooting at our politicians.”

Video clips show a man with close cropped hair and dark sunglasses firing a pistol at Mrs. Bhutto from close range as she waved to crowds through the sunroof of a sport utility vehicle. Three shots can be heard before the explosion.

Mr. Musharraf, the army chief who seized power in a 1999 coup, imposed emergency law on Nov. 3, suspended the constitution and fired most of the Supreme Court.

Having been elected to a five-year term as president by lawmakers weeks earlier, he later retired from the military. By mid-December, when he lifted emergency rule, Mrs. Bhutto had survived one suicide attack that left at least 140 of her supporters dead.

She had been placed under house arrest twice and had recently begun campaigning again.

U.S. lawmakers and presidential candidates, mindful of the $10 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since the September 11 terrorist attacks, also demanded an international probe.

The Bush administration yesterday welcomed the British investigation and did not complain about not being invited to participate.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Washington wants “a transparent and comprehensive investigation” that moves ahead quickly.

Bruce Riedel, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the Pakistanis are wary of U.S. involvement.

“Musharraf recognizes that given the environment in Pakistan today, American help will not be seen as very credible,” Mr. Riedel said. “Scotland Yard is more politically neutral.”

Ashish Kumar Sen contributed to this report from Washington.

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