Benazir Bhutto's Will Made Public

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto wanted her husband to lead her party on an "interim basis" if anything happened to her, according to a will released today and written two days before she returned to Pakistan in October.

Asif Ali Zardari, the man Bhutto married when she was 34, became the co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party after she was killed in a suicide bomb attack Dec. 27.

"I would like my husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best," Bhutto wrote in the handwritten will, dated Oct. 16, 2007.

"I say this because he is a man of courage and honor. He spent 11½ years in prison without bending despite torture. He has the political stature to keep our party united."

The PPP decided it was best for Zardari to become co-chairman of the party with his 19-year-old son Bilawal, a student at Oxford University. The will had been read to the PPP's executive committee after her death, but had not been disclosed publicly before today.

Its secrecy created some controversy. Critics publicly questioned the legitimacy of Zardari's claim to power. He is widely viewed as corrupt in Pakistan and known as "Mr. 10 Percent" for the allegations that he skimmed off the top, while Bhutto was serving as prime minister in the 1990s.

"Whatever misgivings about the will, if they were there, have now been completely removed," PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told ABC News.

Analysts say today's release will help Zardari's political standing inside and outside the party. Analysts have suggested that that he could become PPP's candidate for prime minister, should the party win enough seats in the Feb. 18 elections.

But in an interview with ABC News, Zardari denied he was angling for the top job.

"I'm not running for the member of the parliament. The law of the end is that you have to be a parliamentarian to become the prime minister," he said by phone from Larkana, the ancestral Bhutto family home. "So even if the party wins…technically I can not even be prime minister."

Zardari presents himself as a temporary steward until his son can take over.

"All our hopes are pinned on our children. We will hope that we will make a better party and better country for him for when he is ready."

Since announcing himself as the party's co-chairman, Bilawal has tried to stay out of the spotlight except for holding two press conferences, one in Larkana, one in London.

"When I am at university, my father will take care of the party," he said three days after his mother was killed. "The party's long struggle for democracy will continue with renewed vigor. My mother always said democracy is the best revenge."

The PPP, the largest party in Pakistan, has always been led by a Bhutto -- and the will officially perpetuates the family business. Benazir Bhutto became party leader after her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the party's founder and the country's first popularly elected prime minister, was killed in 1979.

"She was very much confident that her own progeny would be taking over the political mantle at some stage," Tariq Fatmi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, told ABC News.

Analysts say Zardari is consolidating power and will hold onto it until his son turns 25, when he is old enough to run for parliament.

"Pakistani politics, and especially the PPP, being so dynastic and their vote bank being so dependent on the Bhutto name, obviously Mr. Zardari will keep the mantle with himself," Fatmi said.

"I don't expect him to give up that post, and I don't expect in the very near future any challenge to him. There is no one really in the party that would be willing to challenge him."

But as Benazir's death demonstrates the job is not exactly without risks. The family has also been a target. Benazir's two brothers were killed, one of them by police while Benazir herself was prime minister. The family split that was only exacerbated by his death still hasn't fully healed.

Benazir's niece, for one, was a sharp critic of her aunt while she was alive, and criticizes the politics of dynasty.

"When we vote for people because of their name, that means we don't vote for them for their platform, and it means they're not answerable for their platforms or for their political agenda," Fatima Bhutto, Benazir's niece, told ABC News before the will was made public. She is the oldest child of Benazir's brother and, at 25, six years older than Bilawal.

"It doesn't empower the people. It doesn't strengthen democratic institutions. And it's really akin to monarchy, it's political inbreeding, in a way."

The will was released two days before the official 40-day mourning period ends, after which Zardari and the rest of the PPP leadership have promised to launch "mammoth" campaign rallies across the country.

"They feel inspired because Ms. Bhutto has called on them to continue their fight," the PPP's Babar said. "It has a positive impact on the people. They feel galvanized."

Bhutto concluded by urging the party to follow its populist origins. "I wish all of you success in fulfilling the manifesto of our party and in serving the downtrodden, discriminated and oppressed people of Pakistan. Dedicate yourselves to freeing them from poverty and backwardness as you have done in the past."

Comments