The Times : Family feuds resurface to threaten Benazir Bhutto’s will for party succession

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Family feuds resurface to threaten Benazir Bhutto’s will for party succession

Jeremy Page in Mirpur Bhutto | From The Times | January 2, 2008

It is only five days since Benazir Bhutto was buried in a white marble mausoleum near her ancestral home, but already her tragedy-prone family has resumed the bitter feuding that plagued it for the past three decades.

Mumtaz Bhutto, Benazir’s uncle and the leader of the 700,000-strong Bhutto tribe, yesterday disputed the appointment of Bilawal, her 19-year-old son, as head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which she led until her assassination last Thursday.

Mumtaz, 74, also denounced Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir’s widower and the new co-chairman of the PPP, as an opportunist and said that he doubted the authenticity of the will that Bilawal read out at the family home on Sunday. The PPP says that the will nominated Mr Zardari as Benazir’s successor, but he immediately stepped down in his son’s favour, on the understanding that the father would run the party until the son had completed his studies at Oxford in three years.

Bilawal, who flew to Dubai early yesterday, changed his name on Sunday from Bilawal Zardari to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in a symbolic move asserting his right to lead the Bhutto dynasty. But Mumtaz – first cousin of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father – said that the name change violated tribal norms and that Bilawal had no right to lead the party as he was not a Bhutto. “You can’t just add a name. You can’t become a Bhutto overnight,” he said, sitting on the terrace of the original Bhutto family home, two miles from the mausoleum where Benazir was buried alongside her father and two brothers on Friday.
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“It’s very suspect,” he added. “Suddenly a will has come into existence that nobody has seen before.”

He said that the PPP leadership should have passed to Sanam Bhutto, Benazir’s younger sister, who is based in London and has no professed interest in politics, or to one of the two children of Ghinwa Bhutto, the widow of Murtaza, Benazir’s brother. Murtaza was killed in a police shoot-out in Karachi in 1996, when Benazir was Prime Minister.

Ghinwa, who blames Benazir for her husband’s death, lives in Karachi with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Jr, her 18-year-old son, and Fatima Bhutto, her 25-year-old daughter and newspaper columnist who was one of Benazir’s harshest critics.

Mumtaz said: “The party came into existence and survived on the name and the sweat and blood of the Bhutto family. Leadership should have gone to Sanam or to Murtaza’s son or daughter. The Zardaris have made no sacrifices for the party. They have just profited from it. From a person who could not put petrol in his car, he has become a billionaire with palaces and stud farms all over the world.”

Farhatullah Babar, a PPP spokesman, said that Sanam had endorsed Bilawal’s leadership and that Ghinwa was not disputing it. “Whatever Mumtaz is saying he is saying out of frustration and not out of love for the Bhuttos,” he said.

However, Mumtaz’s remarks illustrate the challenges that may lie ahead for Bilawal and his father, who has served 11 years in prison on corruption and other charges. Mumtaz also offered a rare insight into the feudal system that still dominates Pakistan. As he spoke, dozens of villagers queued up to touch his feet, offer condolences and ask for money or help in resolving local disputes while armed guards patrolled in the background.

With a servant standing by to swat flies from a plate of chocolate cake, Mumtaz produced a vellum scroll with the stamp of Queen Victoria that showed how his great-grandfather divided his estate of 100,000 acres between his three sons in 1890.

Today, the family’s three branches own 12,000-16,000 ha (30,000-40,000 acres) around Larkana, some 300 miles northwest of Karachi. Mumtaz owns the original family home plus 14,000 acres of farmland, which are worth an estimated £12 million and earn him about £500,000 a year. That allows him to spend half the year on the Amalfi coast of Italy, or in London, where he usually rents a flat in Mayfair, Knightsbridge or Chelsea. The other half he spends in Pakistan, either in Karachi or at the family home, where he passes his time entertaining guests, hunting twice a week for boar, duck and pheasant, and listening to the problems of up to 100 villagers every day.

When Benazir’s father founded the PPP, Mumtaz joined and held several senior positions, although they disagreed on Mumtaz’s desire for greater autonomy for Sindh. Their feud began when Zulfiqar sacked Mumtaz as Chief Minister of Sindh in 1973.

Benazir then kicked him out of the PPP after he founded the Sindh-Baluch-Pashtun Front in 1985. He now heads the Sindh National Front, which has no seats in Parliament.

He last met Benazir at a lunch 12 years ago, when she was Prime Minister. “We didn’t agree on anything – we just argued for about three hours,” he said. He paid his respects at the mausoleum and at Naudero House, her family home. He did not meet Bilawal or his father, but spoke to Sanam and tried to persuade her to take over the PPP and make up with Ghinwa and her children.

The comments came as a senior official told reporters that the elections would be delayed until after the second week of February, saying that it was impossible to hold elections as initially planned on January 8. He reused to name a specific date ahead of an official announcement expected today. President Musharraf, under pressure to allow an independent investigation into Ms Bhutto’s death, is also expected to address the nation today. Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader, said that his party would call for nationwide protests against any delay in the polls.