Read Amy Wilentz’s September 2007 interview with Benazir Bhutto here.
In history, documents come and documents go. But sometimes one would dearly love to know the exact provenance of a document and see its pages. It was odd to watch Benazir Bhutto’s will suddenly emerge this week and, as if her hands were shooting out from her elaborate grave, lay the mantle of the Pakistan People’s Party across the unready shoulders of her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Strange, too, to see Bilawal’s supposedly ailing father, the corrupt and despised Asif Ali Zardari, leap with alacrity to declare the boy too young for the job and to assume the chairmanship of the PPP himself until Bilawal is no longer of “tender” age.
Where did this will come from, one wonders? Was it signed and witnessed, duly? Was it typed or handwritten? In English or Urdu? Zardari says it was written on October 16, two days before Bhutto returned to Pakistan. Who has had custody of it since then? Is it not a public document? If Benazir Bhutto is allowed leave her political party–Pakistan’s most important party–to her son, shouldn’t the people of Pakistan get to see the incredible document that performs such an astounding feat? In the two years that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father, spent in prison, he never found the leisure, even knowing that his execution was becoming more likely every day, to write a will that left the PPP to one of his children–though Benazir was quick enough to take the party’s reins after he was hanged, in 1979. Zulfikar didn’t need to leave a will; it was obvious who would take over. That was not the case this time, until Zardari stepped in with Benazir’s bequest.
Bhutto’s assassination is surrounded by elements of unprecedented bogosity. You don’t need a will to name a successor whom you’d like to see take the reins of your party, so why all the pomp about the will, about a certifiable (though thus far uncertified by any public authority) document, as if it’s a legal matter?
One speculates that there is a will precisely because there is no will among the party faithful for Zardari to take over. No sane political party on the eve of an election would trade in the electoral benefits sparked by the killing of the beloved leader for the huge electoral deficit that might be provoked by the rise to power of the loathed–and seemingly, till now–estranged husband. Zardari needed a document.
He’s clear about a couple of things: he wants to run the party while his son is too young–say, for the next three or so years, until Bilawal graduates from Oxford. And he does not want to be the party’s candidate for prime minister in the upcoming elections (he knows that would spell defeat for the PPP). Zardari loves a smoke-filled room, and that’s what he is seeking in this power drive. There are many shady things you can do in a smoke-filled negotiation in Pakistan (not meaning to slight Iowa, or London, or any other place where deals are done), and Mr. Ten Percent–as he is known in the Pakistani tabloids, after the amount he was said to skim off government contracts while his wife was in power–is an able negotiator.