ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf yesterday vehemently denied that he or his government played any role in the death of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, and instead blamed her for not heeding warnings to take extra precautions.
A week after Bhutto's assassination, Musharraf bristled at the suggestion - often made by Bhutto supporters - that he or his allies had had a hand in her death, saying the government lacked both the means and the motive.
"I have been brought up in a very educated and civilized family, which believes in values, which believes in principles, which believes in character," he said in a news conference for foreign journalists held at the president's house. "My family is not a family which believes in killing people."
Musharraf added that he did not think the nation's powerful intelligence services were capable of recruiting someone to carry out a suicide bombing against Bhutto.
Instead, he again pinned responsibility on Islamic extremists, singling out Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah, two pro-Taliban commanders who have each created armies of radical followers in the country's restive northwest.
Bhutto's followers have focused their suspicions on several people with past or present ties to Musharraf, four of whom Bhutto had named in a letter to the president as enemies plotting to kill her. One of those she implicated was Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, a former chief minister of Punjab province and a likely candidate to be prime minister if Musharraf's allies do well enough in next month's elections to form a government.
But Musharraf said the allegation that Elahi, or anyone else from the government, had participated in the attack was "baseless," and the Scotland Yard investigators he invited to probe the matter would not be pursuing it.
"I would like to know how she died, ultimately," Musharraf said. "But I will not like anyone to go on a wild goose chase and start creating a disturbance."
Sherry Rehman, spokeswoman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, accused Musharraf of trying to set the terms of Scotland Yard's investigation before it even began. "It's not for him to decide what's a wild goose chase," she said.
Appearing jovial and confident while admitting his country is in "crisis," Musharraf said he decided to invite British investigators because he was not satisfied with the work of Pakistan's own security services. He pointed to their decision to wash the site of the attack minutes after it occurred, and before forensic evidence could be collected. But he called that an example of "inefficiency," and not an indication of anything nefarious.
"They didn't do it with the intention of hiding secrets," he said.
Since Bhutto's death, the nation has been deep in turmoil. Killed as she was leaving a rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, the news sparked three days of riots. The resulting damage forced the election commission on Wednesday to delay by six weeks a long-awaited vote that had been slated for next Tuesday. Pakistanis will now go to the polls to elect a new parliament on Feb. 18.
Throughout last year, Bhutto and Musharraf had been negotiating a US-brokered power-sharing arrangement that might have involved him serving as president and her as prime minister.
The two never trusted each other, however, and the mistrust lives on between Musharraf and Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari. In the past week, he has accused Musharraf of criminal negligence, and called the president's party "the killer league."
Bhutto had been waving to a crowd of supporters from the back seat of her SUV when she was fired on at close range by one assailant, moments before another blew himself up.
Musharraf acknowledged yesterday that he is also under threat, and said his own security detail is often unhappy with him because they believe he takes too many risks.
"I cannot say that I am very, very secure. There are people gunning for me," Musharraf said. "But I know how to protect myself."