Zardari faces bitter opposition in family

Asif Ali Zardari is poised to become President of Pakistan next weekend after inheriting the political mantle of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated last December. But he faces bitter opposition from within the country’s pre-eminent political dynasty.

Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s great-uncle and head of the Bhutto clan, told The Independent on Sunday last week that the prospect of Mr Zardari becoming President was the latest in a series of tragedies to afflict the family – and Pakistan. “It’s unfortunate for the country, and … for the party that a man of his background should become … President,” he said. “He is totally corrupt and utterly illiterate … If he becomes the next President, what will be left of this country?”

Derided as a playboy when Benazir married him, and denounced for his alleged corruption during her two terms as Prime Minister, Mr Zardari was bequeathed the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in her will, and enjoys its “unanimous nomination”. Given the pledges of support from a slew of smaller parties, his victory in Saturday’s indirect election to replace Pervez Musharraf appears secure. But the prospect has implications far beyond the disputes within the Bhutto family.

Divisions in the family stretch back to the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – Benazir’s father and founder of the PPP – by a previous military dictator in 1979, and have deepened with each successive death. Both of Benazir’s brothers, Shahnawaz and Murtaza, were killed in still disputed circumstances. They lie buried close to her and their father in the family mausoleum near Larkana, in Sindh province.

After Benazir, say her followers, Mr Zardari was the obvious successor until their 20-year-old son Bilawal comes of age. Mumtaz, who left the party two decades ago after differences with Benazir, feels that the leadership of the PPP should never have left the family. “The party was always led by the Bhuttos, and that’s how I think Mr Bhutto wanted it,” he said.

The Post, 1/9/2008

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