Bhutto's Son Chosen As Eventual Party Chief

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 31, 2007

KARACHI, Pakistan, Dec. 30 -- Pakistan's largest and most storied political party chose Sunday to continue its dynastic traditions, anointing the 19-year-old son of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to be her ultimate successor but picking her husband to lead for now.

The selections mean that the Pakistan People's Party, which casts itself as the voice of democracy in Pakistan, will stay in family hands for a third generation.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who had largely been shielded from the spotlight by his mother and has not lived in Pakistan since he was a young boy, will lead the party when he finishes his studies at Oxford University.

Speaking briefly but forcefully at a news conference in the Bhutto family's ancestral home, he said he would strive to honor his mother's legacy. "The party's long and historic struggle will continue with renewed vigor," he said. "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge."

Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, whose reputation has long been tainted by corruption charges, will run the party for at least the next several years. He said Sunday that the succession strategy reflected the wishes of his wife, who died in a gun-and-bomb attack at a rally Thursday afternoon.

The party's new leaders -- neither of whom had been a major player in Pakistani politics -- take over at an especially turbulent time for the country, with elections on the horizon and President Pervez Musharraf clinging to power amid widespread unrest.

Asif Zardari quickly announced that the party will compete in the parliamentary vote scheduled for Jan. 8. Another opposition party, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, indicated it will do the same.

But Musharraf allies strongly hinted that the election would be postponed, possibly for months. "Delaying the election is very much in the cards," said Tariq Azim Khan, information secretary for the major pro-Musharraf party. "If you ask me personally if I would go ahead, I would say it would be unfair to go out and campaign in these sad times."

Although the Bush administration pressed Pakistani leaders last week to keep to the election schedule, the State Department said Sunday that it had no objections to a slight postponement.

"If the people on the ground think this is not the time for an election, that is fine," said spokesman Robert McInturff. "But we would want to see an alternative date. We do not want to see an indefinite delay."

Bhutto's killing Thursday was followed by unrest across the country, as rioting broke out in major cities as well as small villages. The atmosphere remained tense Sunday, with army deployments in several key areas, but the violence eased. Still, Bhutto's legions of supporters continued to blame Musharraf for her death.

Zardari called Sunday for the United Nations to lead an international inquiry into his wife's killing, while conceding that he had declined to give Pakistani officials permission to conduct an autopsy. "Their forensic reports are useless," he said angrily, calling the suggestion of an autopsy "an insult to my wife, to the sister of the nation, to the mother of the nation."

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