By NBF News

SEVERAL top Pakistani police and intelligence officials have been removed from their posts after a damning United Nations (UN) report into the killing of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto.

The United Nations investigation released last Thursday found that Bhutto's death in a gun and suicide attack in December 2007 could have been prevented, and that the authorities deliberately failed to properly investigate.

“Eight officials have been relieved of their duties while the service contract of a retired brigadier has been terminated,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Agence France Presse (AFP).

“Their names have been placed on the government's exit control list,” he added, referring to a list of people barred from leaving the country.

Oxford-educated Bhutto had twice served as Pakistan's prime minister, and had just returned from exile abroad to stand in elections when she was killed in the attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Her death threw the world's only nuclear-armed Muslim nation into chaos, sparking turmoil that ended in February 2008 when her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, led her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to election victory.

A three-member UN panel tasked with establishing the circumstances of her killing said it believed the Pakistani police's failure to effectively probe the slaying “was deliberate.”

The report also said the investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other officials who impeded “an unfettered search for the truth” and that the government failed to provide Bhutto with adequate protection.

Anjum Zehra, an official in Punjab province where Bhutto was killed, confirmed that five senior provincial police officials had been relieved of their duties and ordered to report back to Islamabad.

State news agency APP reported that they included Abdul Majeed, a top police officer who headed the team investigating Bhutto's murder.

Saud Aziz, then-head of Rawalpindi police, and three of his senior colleagues were also shifted from their posts, APP said, while former head of the Intelligence Bureau Brigadier Ijaz Shah was put on the exit control list.

Another official removed from his post was retired brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema, who declared at a news conference that Bhutto died of head injuries caused by ducking into her vehicle – findings deemed a whitewash by the PPP.

Babar said authorities would also try to question former military ruler Pervez Musharraf over the findings. He was in power at the time of Bhutto's death, and currently lives abroad to avoid a criminal investigation at home.

“The Pakistan People's Party has already asked the prime minister to take action against all those involved including Musharraf,” Babar said.

An Islamist politician whose party lost several members in a suicide attack yesterday blamed Pakistan's alliance with the U.S. for the violence and urged Islamabad to break ranks in the war on terror.

The comments showed the depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, whose support Washington considers key to stabilizing neighbouring Afghanistan. In the past three days, attacks in Pakistan have killed some 74 people in a new wave of violence.

A remote controlled bomb yesterday hit an army convoy as it traveled in the Hangu district close to the Afghan border, killing three soldiers and a civilian, said police official Farid Khan.

The Jamaat-e-Islami party was hit on Monday when a suicide bomber apparently targeted police watching over a rally of the pro-Taliban group. Many of the 24 dead and 45 wounded were party loyalists, while two were officers, police official Khan Abbas said.

Although authorities blamed the Taliban in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Peshawar, the Islamist party's leaders have declined to do so, instead alleging the CIA or Indian intelligence were behind it.

“It is because we have brought America's war to our own country,” Sirajul Haq, a provincial party leader, said in Peshawar after attending funerals for some of the victims. “Still, there is time to end this alliance with America” to avoid more bloodshed.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but that is not unusual in cases where many ordinary Pakistanis die.

Earlier Monday, a bomb exploded outside a school run by a police welfare foundation, killing a young boy and wounding 10 people. And over the weekend, multiple bombs in the Kohat region elsewhere in the northwest killed nearly 50 people.

Taliban and al-Qaeda militants based in the Afghan border region – who are fighting Pakistani police and the army – have carried out hundreds of attacks over the last three years. They have frequently targeted security forces, government officials and their supporters or family members in mosques, schools and markets, showing no concern for civilian casualties.

Peshawar, the capital of the northwest region, has been one of the hardest-hit cities because it lies close to the border area.