McClatchy : Bhutto's surprise will offers guidance to her party

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bhutto's surprise will offers guidance to her party

By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers | December 29, 2007

NAUDERO, Pakistan — Benazir Bhutto left a last will and testament that maps out the future for her political party and who should lead it in her absence, her husband Asif Zardari disclosed on Saturday.

The document will be presented to her Pakistan People's Party on Sunday. It's expected to include her preference for who should lead the party in her absence. Zardari himself would be a highly controversial contender. Their son Bilawal would win a huge amount of goodwill, but is still a teenager, and Zardari appeared to rule him out on Saturday.

"He's too young. He's 19 years old," Zardari said.

Zardari said he opened the letter himself only on Saturday. Its contents will be read to an emergency meeting of the party on Sunday by Bilawal, a student at Britain's prestigious Oxford University, where his mother also studied.

"She left a message for the party and she left a will," Zardari said, in between meeting mourners who came by the hundreds to Benazir Bhutto's family home here in the village of Naudero. "This [document] is about politics. What we should do and how we should go about things."

Asked whether he wanted to lead the party, he didn't dismiss it.

"Lets see.... It depends on the party and it depends on the will."

Longer term, it's widely predicted that Bilawal Bhutto will take over leadership of the party, Pakistan's most popular political machine, which has always been led by a Bhutto. Benazir's sister, her only surviving sibling, has never taken part in politics.

The People's Party is faced with a vacuum of leadership. There are no towering figures within the party. Many say that Ms. Bhutto did not allow others to gain much recognition, and she concentrated power and decision-making in her hands. The party must also decide whether to boycott the parliamentary elections, now set for January 8.

These political decisions must be made amid continued grief and mourning. On Sunday, special prayers will mark the third day after her death, an important marker in the Muslim faith.

On Saturday Zardari met with mourners. He stood in the courtyard of the family home, where mats had been spread. He embraced each man in turn, as dozens lined up every few minutes. Then there would be a short break for prayers, and the mourners would start coming forward again. Women passed through but went to a different area.

Many men were in tears, some crying uncontrollably. Most looked like poor peasant farmers from the surrounding countryside, dressed in tatty and stained clothing. Also attending were some political figures.

Periodically, large groups of veiled women would enter the compound wailing and beating their heads.

Zardari kept his composure throughout.

A neighbor in the village, Dur Mohammed, who came to Benazir's house, said: "We feel this was not the body of Benazir Bhutto. This was the corpse of our future, our dreams."

The crowd's emotion reached a breaking point with the arrival of Nawaz Sharif, leader of another political party who had been a bitter rival of Benazir. The throng surrounded him and his entourage, chanting "Benazir is innocent" and "long live Bhutto".

Deep anger was evident.

"She repeatedly told the government that the security had to be beefed up. She was very much concerned for her life," said a cousin, Shahid Hussain Bhutto. "It was not a suicide attack. It was a planned, targeted, killing."

Iqbal Haider, a former attorney general of Pakistan, said the government was "trying to create confusion and hide the real killers".

"Where was the security? Why didn't they cover the vehicle? There was no security, no precautions. That is why we hold [President] Pervez Musharraf responsible."

McClatchy Newspapers 2007