MIR BHUTTO, Pakistan — The elevation of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's husband and teenaged son to replace her as leaders of Pakistan's largest opposition party is re-opening fissures that have divided the powerful political family for decades.
To Mumtaz Bhutto, the septuagenarian patriarch of the 700,000-strong Bhutto tribe, Asif Ali Zardari and his son, Bilawal, are interlopers. The leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party, he said in an interview Tuesday, should have gone to "a real Bhutto."
Mumtaz Bhutto's comments reflect the important roles that family, tribe and ethnicity continue to play in Pakistani politics 60 years after independence from British colonial rule, and one reason why democracy has failed to put down strong roots.
The Bhuttos are ethnic Sindhis. Zardari is from the Baluch ethnic group. His son carried Zardari as his last name until after his mother's assassination last week, when he added Bhutto as his middle name in what some experts saw as a move to perpetuate the political dynasty.
Mumtaz Bhutto was a founding member of the party established by Benazir Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the country's first democratically elected prime minister, who was executed two years after being toppled in a 1977 military coup.
"The party has come into existence on the name and the sweat and the blood of the Bhutto family," asserted Mumtaz, 74, who lives on a grand country estate in Mirpur Bhutto, the original family village in southern Sindh Province. "Therefore, the leadership should either have gone to Sanam or Murtaza's son or daughter."
Sanam, Benazir's sister, has never taken any active role in politics. Murtaza, Benazir's brother, saw himself as Zulfiqar Ali's true political heir, but he was gunned down in Karachi by police in 1996, leaving a daughter, Fatima, 25, and Zulfiqar Ali junior, 18.
After Benazir took over leadership of the party in 1984, she sacked Mumtaz in a policy disagreement. Fatima and her stepmother Ghinwa have publicly accused Benazir and Asif Zardari of complicity in Murtaza's death, which remains unsolved — Benazir was prime minister at the time.
Benazir retorted that Murtaza was killed by people who wanted to "frame" her for his murder. Sanam always sided with Benazir and it is believed that her relations with Murtaza's children remain tense, even after Benazir's death.
"The Zardaris have made no sacrifices for the party, whereas the [Bhutto] family have made big sacrifices. The Zardaris have just profited from it," said Mumtaz.
"Whatever Mumtaz Bhutto is saying, he is saying out of spite for Benazir Bhutto, spite and frustration, because he is now out in the political wilderness," responded Farhattullah Babar, a PPP spokesman.
As Bilawal, 19, will continue his studies at Britain's Oxford University, the announcement Sunday that father and son will co-chair the PPP means that Zardari — who was jailed for seven years on corruption and murder charges that were never proved — is actually running the PPP for now.
"This will split the party very badly. He [Zardari] has no political background or acumen. I think this will lead to break-up. Total disintegration," predicted Mumtaz Bhutto.
So far, the PPP has accepted the succession plan.
Sanam Bhutto also endorsed it. She said in a statement, "I believe that the resolution of the issue of leadership in accordance with (Benazir's) will has not only saved the party from a crisis of leadership but will also strengthen it further."
Fatima Bhutto, a graduate of Columbia University in New York, who was tipped as a future challenger for the party's leadership even when Benazir was alive, has so far made no claim to her grandfather's legacy.
But in a local newspaper article, she admitted she never reconciled with Benazir.
"I never agreed with her politics. I never did. I never agreed with those she kept around her, the political opportunists, hanger-ons, them. They repulse me. I never agreed with her version of events. Never. But in death, in death perhaps there is a moment to call for calm," she wrote.