Bhutto succession will split the party, says tribe leader

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The Independent Online

The head of the Bhutto tribe, a founder member of the Pakistan People's Party, has rejected the appointment of Benazir Bhutto's husband and son to lead the group and predicted that it will split the party.

Mumtaz Bhutto's comments threaten to reopen the deep fissures in the family, Pakistan's foremost political dynasty. The Bhuttos started to fall out after the execution in 1979 of Zulfiqar Ali, Pakistan's first elected prime minister, who turned his People's Party into the country's most popular political force.

Mumtaz, first cousin of Benazir's father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and a former senior official in the People's Party, said the leadership of the party should have gone to a "real" Bhutto. Asif Zardari, Benazir's husband, was unrelated to the Bhuttos, while his son carried the name Bilawal Zardari until his mother was assassinated last week, when he took on Bhutto as his middle name.

"The party has come into existence on the name and the sweat and the blood of the Bhutto family," said Mumtaz, 74, a long-time critic of Benazir who lives on a grand country estate in Mirpur Bhutto, the original family village in Sindh province. "Therefore, the leadership should either have gone to Sanam [Benazir's sister]or the son or daughter of Murtaza [Benazir's brother, who saw himself as Zulfiqar Ali's true political heir]."

Murtaza was gunned down in Karachi by police in 1996, leaving a daughter, Fatima, now 25, and Zulfiqar Ali junior, aged 18.

After Benazir took over the leadership of the party in 1984, she sacked Mumtaz, over a policy disagreement. Fatima and her stepmother Ghinwa have publicly accused Benazir and Asif Zardari of complicity in Murtaza's death, which remains unsolved Benazir was prime minister at the time. Benazir had retorted that Murtaza was killed by people who wanted to "frame" her for it. Sanam always sided with Benazir and it is believed that her relations with Murtaza's children remain tense, even after Benazir's death.

"The Zardaris have made no sacrifices for the party, whereas the [Bhutto] family have made big sacrifices. The Zardaris have just profited from it," said Mumtaz.

As Bilawal is just 19 and will continue his studies at Oxford, the announcement on Sunday that father and son will be co-chairmen of the party means that Mr Zardari who was jailed for seven years on charges of corruption and murder that were never proven will actually head the party for now. Mumtaz Bhutto said: "This will split the party very badly. He [Zardari] has no political background or acumen. I think this will lead to break-up. Total disintegration."

Mumtaz, head of the 700,000-strong Bhutto tribe, served as the chief minister of Sindh province in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's government in the 1970s.

So far, the People's Party has accepted the succession plan. Sanam Bhutto also endorsed it. She said in a statement: "I believe that the resolution of the issue of leadership in accordance with [Benazir's] will has not only saved the party from a crisis of leadership but will also strengthen it further."

Fatima Bhutto, who was tipped as a future challenger for leadership of the People's Party even when Benazir was alive, has so far not made a claim for her grandfather's legacy but, in a newspaper article, admitted she was never reconciled with Benazir. "I never agreed with her politics. I never agreed with those she kept around her, the political opportunists, hangers-on. They repulse me."

A spokesman for the People's Party, said: "Whatever Mumtaz is saying, he is saying out of spite for Benazir, spite and frustration, because he is now out in the political wilderness."

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