Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2008 January 12; 336(7635): 65.
PMCID: PMC2190238

Pakistan’s doctors call for clarity on cause of Bhutto’s death

The Pakistan Medical Association has expressed concern over the conflicting medical reports regarding the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and has asked for an international tribunal to be formed to ascertain the real causes of her death.

Umer Ayub Khan, the association’s president, said that the report compiled by the doctors at the Rawalpindi General Hospital had merely mentioned that Ms Bhutto died of temporal fracture, which he said was not enough.

The association says that the conflicting medical reports are sending the wrong messages among the medical community.

“It is important to ascertain whether she died on the spot of profuse bleeding, or in hospital, or of bullets or bomb,” he said.

Ms Bhutto was assassinated in a firearm and bomb attack in Pakistan’s garrison city Rawalpindi immediately after she had addressed an election rally on 27 December.

A team of seven doctors at Rawalpindi General Hospital initially reported that Ms Bhutto died of wounds to the left temporal region of her head. The next day the Interior Ministry attributed her death to a skull fracture caused by a lever attached to the sun roof of her bulletproof vehicle. Ms Bhutto’s party contradicted the government’s version, saying that she had been shot in the neck. Her party spokeswoman, Sherry Rehman, said that she saw two wounds on Ms Bhutto’s body at the hospital’s emergency ward.

Video footage taken by Pakistan’s Dawn television channel and the United Kingdom’ Channel 4 showed a man in sunglasses shooting her from close range and another man blowing himself up immediately afterwards. These videos contradict the Interior Ministry’s statement that said she died from hitting her head on the vehicle.

No autopsy was performed on the body, so the cause of her death remains a mystery. Asif Ali Zardari, her husband, refused an autopsy, saying that the reports can be manipulated. “We also know how she died,” he told reporters.

At the request of Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, the UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, sent a five member team of the Metropolitan Police Service’s counterterrorism branch to Pakistan. One of the team members said, however, that it is too late to determine the exact circumstances of her death, as officials hosed down the venue immediately after the blast occurred.

“All the forensic evidence has been lost from the crime scene, and there is little usable footage of the attack,” he said.

Legal and medical experts say that the only way to establish the cause of her death would be to exhume and examine her body, something her family has opposed so far.

The leading Peshawar based lawyer Noor Alam Khan said that under the Antiterrorism Act of 1997 it was mandatory for doctors to carry out a postmortem examination of any public figure who dies in such circumstances, regardless of the family’s permission.

Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group