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Cracks in the Bhutto house
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 02 - 2008

All the polls indicate that Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party will win Pakistan's elections next week, but can it survive without a Bhutto at the helm, asks Graham Usher in Garhi Khuda Baksh
Forty days after her assassination people still flock to Benazir Bhutto's floral tomb at Garhi Khuda Baksh in Pakistan's Sindh province. They come in limousines, on tractors, aboard motorcycles and on foot. Tribesmen from Balochistan, women from Kashmir and a delegation of women activists from Lahore all throw petals on a freshly tilled grave that lies beside those of her prime-minister father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and murdered brothers Shahnawaz and Murtaza. Not since Zulfikar has a political death united so many different parts of Pakistan.
"We love the Pakistan People's Party [PPP], but we love the Bhutto family more," says a young tribesman. "The party is Bhutto's party -- first the father, Zulfikar, then Benazir, and next her son Bilawal." The PPP is hoping grief will turn into votes in Pakistan's elections on 18 February. But what explains the allure of Bhuttoism in Pakistan? And can the party hold together now that the baton has been passed to a non-Bhutto -- Benazir's widower and former investment minister, Asif Ali Zardari?
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded the PPP in 1967. A feudal lord, he vowed to deliver "bread, shelter and clothing" to Pakistan's rural poor, including those who worked his estates in Garhi Khuda Baksh. Ousted in a coup 10 years later he was hanged by Pakistan's then military ruler, Zia ul-Haq, with the connivance of Washington. Haq believed dictatorship was the proper form of Islamic government. Washington preferred fundamentalism to an independent foreign policy. For the poor, the party and his family, martyrdom made Zulfikar a saint. But he had failed in his mission, says former PPP founder member and Zulfikar's cousin, Mumtaz Bhutto.
"The PPP was a party of the feudal elite from the start," he says. "But in the early days there was a strong element of the working class also. Now the PPP's focus is power at all costs. And it's the feudal class that benefits from this, not the working class". Mumtaz says the real Bhutto legacy rests with Pakistan's sub-nationalist movements, like his own Sindhi National Front, rather than the PPP. "Pakistan is a multinational state and should be a confederation. I think Zulfikar understood this in the end".
Fatima Bhutto is Zulfikar's granddaughter and Benazir's niece. Her father, Murtaza, was killed in a police ambush outside her home in Karachi in 1996, during Benazir Bhutto's second term as prime minister. Fatima disagrees that her grandfather failed in his "socialist" mission. Rather, Benazir's governments betrayed it. Father and daughter represented entirely different political projects, she says.
"Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's legacy was about empowering the people -- providing a voice to those who are dispossessed politically, economically and socially. Whereas the PPP in its current form represents feudal landlords and an elite political class whose interest is in preserving a power hierarchy that keeps them at the top and millions at the bottom." With Benazir's death, Fatima has put her political differences with her aunt to rest. But she disputes the idea that Bhuttoism is in any way a dynasty or that only a Bhutto can head the PPP.
"How the PPP organises the succession is up to it," she says. "But it has nothing to do with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He never intended for his children or his nieces or his grandfather to possess the Bhutto legacy. It's the people who inherit the legacy, not a family member. Read his writings: 'I'm not a Bhutto,' he wrote. 'You are too -- we are all Pakistanis'". But some Pakistanis, clearly, are more Bhutto than others. When Zardari took over the PPP courtesy of his wife's last "political will and testament", he said he was holding it "in trust" until their 19-year-old son, Bilawal, came of age to lead the party. A jovial, avuncular man, Zardari walks with a shadow. During his time in government he was not only seen as corrupt -- mister 10 per cent. His patriarchal style of politics was said to actively undermine Benazir's leadership.
Zardari dismisses all allegations as character assassination by a regime he once described as "the largest intelligence agency on earth". He also points out that, despite 11 years in jail, he was never convicted on any charge, including the most egregious, that he was somehow implicated in Murtaza's murder. He also denies using the dynastic principle to vault to power.
"I was elected party leader," he says. "Fifty- six members of the party's Executive Committee approved Benazir's will. They all thought I was a uniting factor, someone whom the poor, the feudals, the intellectuals and the detractors could accept."
Gelled by her death and hungry for power few doubt that Zardari can lead the PPP in the elections and probably to victory. The real problem will come when he tries to weave the different strands of Bhuttoism into one cloth; when he is asked to satisfy the demands of the feudal lords in Sindh, the intellectuals in Lahore and the poor across the breadth of Pakistan. That load was too heavy for the father and daughter. It will be heavier still for the husband. "A Bhutto is a Bhutto -- and Zardari is not a Bhutto," said the tribesman at the graveside.


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