Pakistan still under Bhutto shadow

A year after his execution, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto still haunts Pakistan's political life. Indeed, the instability that President Zia ul-Haq hoped to end when he rejected worldwide clemency appeals for Mr. Bhutto's life has intensified.

Comparisons between General Zia's lack of popular appeal and Mr. Bhutto's charisma, acknowledged even by his opponents, are widespread and unflattering to the military strong man who deposed Mr. Bhutto in a bloodless 1977 coup.

"Even having killed him, Zia has not been able to fill Bhutto's place," says an anaylst of Pakistan affairs. "Zia's tenure today is as unstable as it was a year ago.If anything, it's more unstable. More than ever, he seems to have no formula for ruling. It's a day-to-day operation."

A diplomatic report cites a "notable lack of enthusiamsm for Zia in the Army and virtually all segments of the population." The question now openly raised among Pakistanis and close observers of the Indian subcontinent is when -- not if -- President Zia will meet the same political fate as Mr. Bhutto's in a military coup.

Some are predicting that President Zia, having set the Pakistan precedent of executing his predecessor, may meet the same personal end as well.

"His remaining in office is a matter of personal survival now," an expert of Pakistan politics says. "I don't think this man can step down."

Another disagrees, noting that Mr. Bhutto was executed only after lengthy legal proceedings resulting in a death sentence for ordering the murder of a political opponent in 1974. "But," he adds, "if you were taking out a life insurance policy on Zia, the result of Bhutto's execution would certainly be an increase in the premium."

Prime Minister Bhutto's most obvious political successors, his widow, Nustrat , and daughter, Benazir, have been under house arrest at their home near Larkana since Oct. 16. On that date President Zia banned political activity under tough martial-law regulations.

National elections, which President Zia promised when he took over the government, have been indefinitely postponed because all indications were that Mr. Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), would win -- as candidates identified with the PPP did in "partyless" elections to local and municipal bodies last fall.

In a national election, diplomatic observer says, "the Bhutto women and their allies could probably lead their party to victory. Bhutto's death probably added luster to their credentials."

Given President Zia's personal unpopularity, analysts believe he remains as head of the government solely because the military has not yet decided to replace him. "Short of an assassin's bullet," one says, "he's not going to step down. it can only happen by another general or group of generals acting against him."

Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan "has given him a breather," a diplomat observes. "With a clear threat from the outside, it's not a good time to change horses."

Other results of the Soviet more have been increases in aid that will help Mr. Zia stave off Pakistan's financial problems for a while, and strengthening of his ties with Islamic nations and the nonaligned.

"If they're going to give Zia the shove, they've also got to come up with an alternative -- an agreed-upon candidate or junta," another says. "As long as there's no obvious replacement for him, Zia can sit it out."

With political parties weakened and forced underground, continued Army rule seems assured and prospects of return to civilian government are nil, diplomats say.

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