Courtesy Massoud Ansari in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh
Telegraph, London–LONG live Bhutto,â€ Benazir Bhutto shouted, waving to the crowd surging around her car. They were her last words before three gunshots rang out and she slumped back on to her seat.
â€œShe did not say anything more,â€ said Safdar Abbassi, her chief political adviser, who was sitting behind her.
In the first witness account from inside the car, Dr Abbassi said: â€œAll of a sudden there was the sound of firing. I heard the sound of a bullet.
â€œI saw her: she looked as though she ducked in when she heard the firing. We did not realise that she had been hit by a bullet.â€
He had looked up to see her sliding back through the aperture in the roof of the white Land Cruiser. Moments later, the car was rocked by a huge explosion.
He said that after the blast there was no sound from Ms Bhutto. He leant forward to see what was wrong. At first glance, she appeared to have escaped injury. Then he noticed the blood. It was seeping from a deep wound on the left side of her neck.
Dr Abbassiâ€™s account contradicts the Governmentâ€™s official line: that Ms Bhutto died when the shockwaves from the suicide bomb smashed her head into the sunroof as she tried to duck back inside the car. â€œAbsolute facts – nothing but facts,â€ it said of its account. An Interior Ministry spokesman added: â€œIf the Peopleâ€™s Partyâ€™s leadership wants, her body can be exhumed and post-mortemed. They are most welcome.â€
But Dr Abbassi leaves little room for doubt. There was too much blood, he said, and a gaping wound in her neck. She had been shot. Naheeb Khan, his wife, cradled the injured womanâ€™s head in her lap, reaching up for her own headscarf, pulling it from her head, pressing it into the wound, trying to stem the flow. But the wound was deep and the blood seeped out, spreading down her neck and across her blue tunic.
It was the first rally that Ms Bhutto had addressed since the attempt on her life in October, and she was on a high. As she walked from the podium, she had turned to Dr Abbassi, her friend as well as adviser, and urged him to join her in working the crowd. â€œWhy donâ€™t you join me?â€ she said.
They headed towards the two waiting Land Cruisers, Ms Bhutto leading. She would never decide until the last minute which car to ride in; not even her head of security was party to the decision until she opened the car door. On Thursday, she chose the lead vehicle.
â€œShe was smiling and she was extremely happy,â€ Dr Abbassi said. â€œShe took me inside the car and she sat in front of me. I started chanting slogans because there were crowds all around.â€
Undeterred by the previous attempt on her life and repeated death threats, she clambered onto her seat and lifted herself through the sunroof to wave to supporters. Behind her, Dr Abbassi took up the chanting again. â€œNar-e Bhutto [letâ€™s cheer for Bhutto],â€ he shouted. â€œJeay Bhutto [long live Bhutto],â€ Ms Bhutto replied. Then the gunman opened fire.
Those in the following car initially thought Ms Bhutto was safe. But inside the car in front, realisation was dawning. â€œWe saw the blood: the blood was everywhere, on her neck and on her clothes and we realised she was hit. She could not say anything,â€ Dr Abbassi said, his shirt still stained with her blood.
Able to do nothing more than stanch some of the bleeding, they made for the nearest hospital. Ms Bhutto was still alive when she was carried into the intensive care unit, but her injuries were so severe that she stood no chance. â€œThe doctors really tried their best but it was too late,â€ Dr Abbassi said, amid tears. â€œI was so optimistic: I thought nothing would happen to her. I still feel she is alive. I cannot believe she is with us no more.â€
The Governmentâ€™s version of events continues to anger Ms Bhuttoâ€™s friends and colleagues.
Her spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said: â€œWe saw a bullet wound in the back of her neck. What the Government is saying is actually dangerous and nonsensical. They are pouring salt on our wounds.â€