Purge of Bhutto Allies Raises Further Questions About Zardari

Updated 8/30 8:45 PM EST

Less than a week after losing their largest coalition partner the Pakistani Peoples Party’s internal stability has been called into question, amid reports that acting party leader and presumptive future President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari has purged many of assassinated former leader Benazir Bhutto’s closest allies from the upper ranks of the party.

Close Zardari ally Zulfiqar Mirza reportedly blamed Naheed Khan, one of Bhutto’s most loyal allies, for the assassination, claiming she was in charge of security and had declined an offer of volunteer guards at the incident. Khan denied the charge, and insisted that Mirza and Interior Minister Rehman Malik were actually in charge of security during the incident. Last year, Pakistani police raided Mirza’s home in a failed attempt to arrest him for his connection to the murder of Sajjad Hussain, who was killed three days before he was scheduled to testify against Zardari on corruption charges.

The Times quoted Khan and other Bhutto loyalists as saying Zardari had wasted the past six months, and she also warned that party workers were growing increasingly disillusioned at their lack of access to him.

Though Bhutto’s son Bilawal was named as her successor, Zardari has emerged as the de facto party leader while Bilawal is in Britain finishing college. The PPP won a plurality in the February election, and formed a coalition government with Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party. That coalition was shattered earlier this week when Zardari refused to reinstate 60 ousted judges before Sharif’s Monday deadline, despite an earlier signed promise to do so.

Though the PPP was expected to retain its control over the Pakistani government even without the PML-N, the incidents have added yet more doubts among Pakistanis of Zardari’s suitability for the office of President. He is still widely referred to as “Mr. 10 Percent” in Pakistan because of allegations that he stole millions of dollars during his tenure as Minister of Investment. The Swiss Government had kept some $60 million in Zardari’s assets frozen since 1997 in connection to the allegations, which it released after Zardari’s government informed them that the incident was no longer under investigation. Zardari spent 11 years in prison in connection with corruption charges, and doctors report that he has suffered from severe depression, dementia, and PTSD in connection with his incarceration.

Still, Zardari is expected to prevail in Pakistan’s Presidential election, to be held a week from today. He is one of three candidates for the position, as Sharif’s party is fielding former Supreme Court Chief Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, while the PML-Q, the ruling party during Musharraf’s tenure, is running Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed.

Still, with his coalition in tatters, his party increasingly divided, and even his own family attacking him publicly, it is unclear how effective a leader he will be, or how long he can maintain his grip on power.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.