Supporters of Benazir Bhutto insisted on Thursday that a UN probe was the only way to reveal the truth behind her murder, dismissing a government announcement that Scotland Yard anti-terror officers would help in the investigation. Opposition parties also criticised the government's decision to delay parliamentary elections until Febuaray 18, a six-week delay prompted by the rioting that followed the opposition leader's death. But they said they still plan to take part in the elections, seen as a key step in bringing democracy to Pakistan after years of military rule.
Bhutto's slaying in a gun and suicide bomb attack December 27 plunged already volatile Pakistan deeper into crisis and stoked fears of political meltdown as the key US ally struggled to contain an explosion of Islamic militant violence.
The government of President Pervez Musharraf declared just one day after the attack that an Al-Qaeda-linked militant orchestrated the killing. But the hasty accusation only served to cast doubt over the government's account of exactly how she died. Authorities, which had initially ruled out the need for foreign involvement in the investigation, have also come under sharp criticism for their security arrangements for Bhutto, who had claimed elements in the ruling party were trying to kill her. "The mist of confusion will be cleared only if the regime accepts the party's demand for holding a UN inquiry into the assassination as was done in the case of Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri's murder," said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party.
"The regime has lost all credibility. Neither a domestic inquiry nor vague foreign involvement ... would lay to rest the lingering doubts and suspicions."
In a nationally televised address late on Wednesday, Musharraf announced that Scotland Yard detectives had been invited to join the probe. He blamed "terrorists" for the death of Bhutto, a two-time prime minister and appealed for public unity to combat them. "This is a time for reconciliation and not for confrontation," he said.
Scotland Yard said it was sending a small team of officers from the Metropolitan Police's Counterterrorism Command. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the team would leave Britain by the end of the week.
The White House said it supported Scotland Yard's involvement, adding that a United Nations investigation into Bhutto's slaying was not necessary now.
"Scotland Yard being in the lead in this investigation is appropriate and necessary and we don't see a need for an investigation beyond that at this time," presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Bhutto spent much of her eight years in self-exile in London before she returned to Pakistan in October to participate in elections.
Rioting that erupted after Bhutto's death has killed nearly 60 people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, particularly in her home province of Sindh.
Referring to the violence, Musharraf accused "many miscreants and some political elements" of taking advantage of the tragedy to loot and plunder. Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and recently declared six weeks of emergency rule in an apparent bid to cling to the presidency, said he had wanted elections to go ahead as planned on Jan. 8. But he supported the decision to delay the vote until Feb. 18 because of the rioting.
While Bhutto's party condemned the delay and said the government did not sincerely want to hold fair elections, it said it would run anyway, a boost to Musharraf's hopes to engineer a democratic transition.
The party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quickly followed suit, saying it did not want to "leave the field open" for the Musharraf-allied ruling party. It also reiterated allegations that Musharraf was going to rig the polls and called on him to resign. "Free and fair polls are impossible under his leadership," said Javed Hashmi, a senior member of the party. "Such a thing is unthinkable if he is there."
The opposition alleged authorities were postponing the vote to help the ruling party, amid expectations that Bhutto's group could get a sympathy boost at the polls. The ruling party could also suffer a backlash because of Bhutto's claims it had plotted to kill her, a charge it vehemently denies.