Bhutto's party releases her will to bolster PPP leadership

The slain ex-prime minister's political party hopes to end the controversy over new party leader, Asif Ali Zardari, ahead of Feb. 18 elections.

Benazir Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), released the slain former prime minister's handwritten political will Tuesday. It's a move that analysts say is an effort to bolster support for Ms. Bhutto's husband and the PPP's controversial new leader, Asif Ali Zardari, ahead of parliamentary elections on Feb. 18.

The revelation came as unrest continued to bubble over in Pakistan with the Associated Press this week reporting nationwide violence.

On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying military personnel to the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, killing seven people and wounding 37. The dead included a lieutenant colonel from the army's medical corps. On Tuesday, a blast wounded one person in an army district of the southern city of Karachi.

The PPP released the will as dissent grew against Mr. Zardari's leadership, writes leading Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn. In her will, Bhutto wrote:

"I would like my husband Asif Ali Zardari to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best. I say this because he is a man of courage and honour. He spent eleven and a half years in prison without bending despite torture. He has the political stature to keep a party united."

Following Bhutto's assassination in December, Zardari was made joint chairman of the PPP along with Bhutto's 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. With Bilawal currently a student at Oxford University, Zardari became de facto leader.

But he has proved to be a controversial figure, with claims of corruption swirling over him. While a government minister during Bhutto's time as prime minister, he became known as "Mr. 10 Percent."

Pakistani critics were quick to condemn his elevation to the party leadership in an editorial in Dawn.

The biggest challenge for Asif Zardari is more personal than political. He needs to get rid of his past for the sake of his future. In simple words the man is haunted by his friends, you know which kind. He must have reflected a lot on this issue in his eight long years in jail but to change your personality after half a century is easier said than done.

Following the disclosure of the will, PPP supports have called for an end to the divisive whisper campaign against Zardari and renewed unity as the party prepares to contest this month's parliamentary polls.

Calling Bhutto's decision to pass power to her husband a wise move, Pakistan's The News' editorial advocated closure.

With the release of the political will of the late Benazir Bhutto, the document which the opponents of the PPP were challenging as non-existent, some even alleging that it had been faked, the muted controversy over who should lead the party should now come to a rest. The will is written in her handwriting and there is nothing to suggest that she did not do it. It carries all the hallmarks of Benazir's love for the party, respect for the workers' struggle, their dedication, devotion and discipline for ZA Bhutto's mission and for a federal, democratic and egalitarian Pakistan.

The PPP is now launching its campaign for the upcoming elections following a 40-day mourning period. Another leading opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is also gearing up for the vote. Like Bhutto, Mr. Sharif returned from exile in November after leaving Pakistan eight years ago following the military coup by current President Pervez Musharraf.

Parliament re-elected Musharraf in October but needs a two-thirds majority in the 342-member body to stave off any bid for his impeachment. The embattled president has given assurances that the elections will be "free, fair and transparent."

Many participants, however, say the election is sure to be rigged and that the government is not providing enough protection for candidates, leaving them vulnerable to attacks similar to the one that killed Bhutto.

Even so, observers suggest that the vote is crucial to ending the civil strife that has torn through the country in recent months, both in opposition to President Musharraf's rule and as a result of Bhutto's assassination.

Pakistan also continues to battle militants in the northwest of the country and more than more than 860 members of its security forces have been killed in bombings in 2007.

On Tuesday, a senior American government official said the very survival of the nuclear state was threatened by these different forces, reports The Washington Post.

Radical elements are now a threat to the survival of Pakistan, prompting Pakistani military leaders to recognize that more aggressive efforts are needed to get the elements under control, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said yesterday in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"In the last year, the number of terrorist attacks and deaths were greater than the past six years combined," McConnell said in an unusually strong warning about Pakistan's political problems. "What's happened is Pakistan has now recognized that this is an existential threat to their very survival."

McConnell did, however, praise Pakistan for doing more to "neutralize" terrorists than any other US partner.

Bhutto's own words in her will revealed much apprehension for the country, reports Pakistan's The News.

"I fear for the future of Pakistan. Please continue the fight against extremism, dictatorship, poverty and ignorance."
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