NAUDERO, Pakistan — The credibility of the U.S.-backed Pakistani government was battered again Monday when video footage appeared to contradict its version of Benazir Bhutto's death and supported assertions by her husband and others that she had been shot leaving a campaign rally.
The footage, obtained by Britain's Channel 4 News, shows what appears to be a gunman firing at Bhutto last Thursday as she waves to supporters from her armored car's sunroof in the army headquarters city of Rawalpindi. Her scarf and hair lifted up — seemingly from a bullet's impact — she drops into the vehicle and a suicide bomber detonates his explosives.
The government contends that Bhutto, 54, died Thursday when the explosion slammed her head into a part of the sunroof.
The videos added to the growing gulf between the Pakistani public and President Pervez Musharraf and to widespread suspicions of official complicity in her slaying.
Adding to the rancor, Bhutto's husband, who's taken charge of her Pakistan People's Party, dismissed the government's assertion that an Islamic militant leader allied with al Qaida and the Taliban was behind his wife's assassination.
In an interview with McClatchy at Bhutto's ancestral home Monday, Asif Ali Zardari suggested a high-level government conspiracy, charging that "the establishment, which is bigger than Musharraf himself," was responsible. In a separate CNN interview, Zardari demanded an international investigation, which Musharraf has refused to accept.
The assassination of Pakistan's most popular opposition leader ignited a three-day nationwide strike and violence that paralyzed the country. Zardari warned that the nuclear-armed nation risks disintegrating as a result of the growing Islamic insurgency in the country's northwestern tribal belt, bordering Afghanistan.
A new confrontation took shape Monday over the timing of parliamentary elections, which had been set for Jan. 8, with Zardari and other opposition leaders demanding that they be held on schedule and election authorities urging a postponement for six weeks or longer.
In a related development, an aide to Bhutto said that on the evening of her assassination, she'd planned to give two U.S. politicians a dossier laying out an effort by the military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency to rig the elections in Musharraf's favor.
Just how Musharraf can lead the country out of the cascade of problems was unclear Monday. His credibility and power base have eroded over the last month after he declared a state of emergency only to lift it under U.S. and international pressure, and abandoned his post as the chief of staff of the armed forces, which he'd held from the time he came to power in a military coup in 1999.
One of the first major tests will be the timing of the elections.
The Pakistan Election Commission declined to reveal its recommendation on the duration of the delay until Tuesday. But Pakistani officials told the Bush administration that it could be six weeks or longer, said a State Department official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of issue.
A delay of such length could plunge the country deeper into turmoil, with the Pakistan People's Party and the other major opposition group, a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, pushing for the vote to be held as scheduled.
The United States, the main foreign supporter of Musharraf, and other world powers also have been pressing Pakistan not to postpone the elections.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the head of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, whom Musharraf ousted in the coup, endorsed the Pakistan People's Party's call for the elections to be held as scheduled.
Both parties apparently hoped to capitalize on revulsion for Musharraf, boosted by Bhutto's death.
"Musharraf must go immediately. He is the primary and principal source of discord in the country. He is a one-man calamity," Sharif said in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, his power base and the country's largest province.
In Islamabad, Election Commission Secretary Kanwar Dilashad said a recommendation "has been sent to the government for a delay" in the elections.
Officials have said that holding the elections would be extremely difficult because attacks on election commission offices after Bhutto's killing had destroyed ballots and voter rolls.
In his interview with McClatchy, Zardari contended that misrule by Musharraf and the Islamic insurgency could turn the country into chaos.
"My fears are of Pakistan being totally broken up, being converted into Somalia," he said. "I think that everybody — every intellectual — is not really paying attention to it because they have got their head in the ground, like ostriches.
"It could be worse. Somalia had 30 million population. We're 175 million. Somalia did not have the Afghan arms on the border. Somalia did not have hundreds and thousands of madrassas (Islamic schools)."
He omitted mentioning that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal and Somalia doesn't.
Shortages of food and gasoline persisted around Pakistan in the wake of the strike and violence that paralyzed the country, left more than 40 people dead and saw banks, vehicles, train stations and government offices looted and burned.
The uncertainty over the future was reflected in the single largest decline in the Karachi Stock Exchange on the first day of trading after Bhutto's death, and the Pakistani rupee fell to a 6-year-old low against the dollar.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Landay reported from Karachi, Pakistan.)
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View the video footage of Bhutto's death.