Pakistan Peoples Party seeks return to roots - to the Bhutto family

July 5th, 2008 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, July 5 (IANS) Elements opposed to Asif Ali Zardari, co-chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that leads the country’s ruling coalition, have begun to pool their energies to “return the party to the Bhutto family” that has been at the centre of the country’s politics since the late 1960s. The number of opponents of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s widower Zardari is increasing, with some key party stalwarts weighing the option of creating a new faction in the PPP and to install someone from the Bhutto family as head of what is arguably the country’s most popular political party.

After Benazir’s assassination Dec 27, 2007, Zardari read out her will, according to which he was to head the party after his wife. Zardari instead named his son Bilawal, a student of Oxford, as the party chairman and named himself co-chairman.

Some party leaders and many of its workers do not accept this.

Three days after Benazir’s assassination, Zardari hyphenated her surname to his own and to those of his three children. Thus, Bilawal is now called Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. However, this has been rejected by other Bhutto family members, who have started lobbying for naming someone from the Bhutto family as head of the PPP.

Now, with the arrival of Bhutto’s niece Sassi in Pakistan, speculation is rife that anti-Zardari elements in the PPP and the Bhutto family are getting together and may make things difficult for Zardari’s supporters in the PPP.

“It is true that Sassi has come to Pakistan but it would be premature to say that she will enter politics,” a source close to the Bhutto family told IANS.

However, 11 closely related members of the Bhutto family had met to discuss the family issues, the source added.

Sassi, 26, is the daughter of Benazir’s younger brother Shahnawaz, who was found dead in mysterious circumstances in his Paris apartment in 1985.

No one was brought to trial for the murder, but Shahnawaz’s wife Rehana was considered a suspect by the French authorities and remained in their custody for some time. She was exonerated and was allowed to travel, following which she went to America where she was living with her daughter Sassi.

Thereafter, Shahnawaz’s elder brother Murtaza divorced his wife Fauzia, who was Rehana’s sister. Murtaza, however, retained custody of his daughter Fatima, who now lives in Pakistan with her stepmother Ghinwa, who heads the Shaheed Bhutto faction of the PPP after her husband’s death in a clash with the police in 1996.

Benazir was prime minister at the time.

Benazir became highly unpopular after this incident and PPP workers stoned her limousine when she tried to attend Murtaza’s funeral ceremonies.

After Benazir’s government was dismissed in 1996, Zardari was detained on suspicion of having had a hand in Murtaza’s killing but was released in the face of insufficient evidence.

“Everyone knows what’s happening in the country… and people are looking towards the Bhutto family,” Ghinwa told IANS from Karachi, adding that all members of the Bhutto family were discussing “family issues”.

Asked if this gathering was meant to divide the family assets, she said “there are certain issues” that were being discussed.

The Lebanese-Syrian widow of Murtaza said her cousins in Pakistan warmly welcomed Sassi and “she’s here to meet family members and offer prayers at the family graveyard”.

Replying to a question whether estranged PPP leader Amin Fahim or any other party stalwarts had contacted her, she said: “Many from the party are talking to me…their names will be known at the appropriate time.”

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