Page 2 of 2   <      

Pakistan at Standstill as Discord and Unrest Grow

Bhutto's father founded the Pakistan People's Party in 1967 as a counterweight to the all-powerful Pakistani army, and she took over soon after he was hanged by a military dictator in 1979. But Bhutto, who held the official title of party chairperson for life, did not leave behind an obvious successor.

The choice is considered crucial at a time when the party is playing a central role in the movement against the deeply unpopular Musharraf, who resigned last month as army chief but managed to engineer a new term as president.

Bhutto's 19-year-old son, Bilawal, is scheduled to make his mother's final wishes public at a news conference Sunday. Bilawal himself is considered a possible heir to the dynastic PPP. Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, is thought by party insiders to be a likely candidate to lead the party for the next several years, until Bilawal is older.

Zardari is a divisive figure whose name is associated with corruption allegations stemming from his wife's two terms as prime minister. Some members of the party fear it could split without Bhutto to unify factions that differ sharply on how best to challenge Musharraf.

While the party's top leaders have pushed to work for change from within the system, many in the rank and file are making a different choice. In Sindh province, rioters had left a wide swath of destruction Saturday, with still-burning fuel tankers and smoldering tires littering the highways. And young men wearing People's Party head scarves had set up dozens of impromptu checkpoints along the major roads, looking for targets.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, retired Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, said 174 banks had been burned and billons of rupees worth of property destroyed across the country.

The violence was met with threats of a stiffer government response.

"We are warning people to stay calm and restrain themselves," Cheema said. "They will be punished in the toughest way if it does not stop."

The army was already out in force in many areas of Sindh on Saturday and appeared to be regaining control there. Elsewhere, however, the unrest intensified. In Rawalpindi, riot police and People's Party supporters clashed near the spot where Bhutto was killed.

In the eastern city of Lahore, workers slept in their offices because public transportation was shut down and many were unable to get enough gas in their cars to go home. Families brought blankets and pillows to the airport, where they waited for flights that never left. All cafes, movie theaters and markets remained closed in Lahore, the country's cultural capital.

"We had to cancel over 100 weddings in the heat of the season," said Ali Hassan, a manager at the Avari Hotel, where employees have been sleeping on cots.

"This is worse than the judicial crisis and worse than the emergency. We even called off all New Year's Eve parties. It's a sad and violent time for Pakistan," Hassan added.

Some people said they were profoundly frustrated by Bhutto's killing and wanted to get away -- for good.

"I travel abroad all the time, and I never thought of leaving my country until now," said Adnan Hassan, 37, an engineer who had waited for days for a flight from Lahore to Islamabad. "We had hopes that Pakistan would do better. But it's only getting worse."

Correspondent Emily Wax in Lahore and special correspondents Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar and Shahzad Khurram in Rawalpindi contributed to this report.


<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company