ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto's party made public Tuesday the will in which she endorsed her husband to succeed her — a move that could polish his leadership credentials ahead of this month's elections.
In the handwritten, one-page letter dated Oct. 16 — two days before her return to Pakistan from exile and two-and-a-half months before her assassination — Bhutto urged supporters to keep up her struggle.
"I fear for the future of Pakistan. Please continue the fight against extremism, dictatorship, poverty and ignorance," she wrote.
Bhutto died on Dec. 27 in a bomb and gun attack as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital, Islamabad.
Her slaying prompted a six-week delay to parliamentary elections and damped Western hopes that the vote could produce a government able to win an escalating war against Islamic militants based near the Afghan border.
However, her Pakistan People's Party may yet ride a wave of sympathy to victory in the Feb. 18 vote.
The party quickly named her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, as co-chairman and de facto leader, citing Bhutto's last wishes, but released the text of the letter only on Tuesday.
Zardari is a divisive figure in Pakistan. He acquired the nickname "Mr. 10 percent" during Bhutto's two governments, in which he served as a minister, for alleged corruption.
But Bhutto maintained that the accusations were politically motivated and described him as a hero for surviving years of detention on charges that were never proven.
In the letter, Bhutto recommended that Zardari lead the party "in this interim period until you (party officials and members) and he decide what is best. I say this because he is a man of courage and honor ... He has the political stature to keep our party united."
Her political last wishes were made public amid growing media speculation that Zardari is jockeying with other party leaders to become prime minister, should the party triumph in the ballot.
Party spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the will was being made available to halt speculation about its contents.
He said it was not a deliberate attempt to strengthen Zardari's position within the party.
"His credentials as party leader were already polished up" by his endorsement by Bhutto in her will and by the party leadership in December, Babar said.
He said the party would discuss who it might put forward to lead a new government only when the election results are in.
The ballot is going ahead despite concerns about the security of voters and candidates and accusations from Bhutto's party that the military-dominated establishment will rig the vote to ensure his survival.
On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying military personnel to Pakistan 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.
Police initially reported that a bomb planted under a tree near a hospital in the army cantonment had exploded, less than a kilometer (half mile) from the residence of the U.S. consul general, but later said the blast was an accident caused by a concentration of gas in a pipe.
Also in Karachi, a gunman on a motorcycle fired at a rally of about 100 supporters of Bhutto's party, wounding one person who later died of his injuries, police officer Mohammed Pervez said.
In Islamabad on Tuesday, several hundred supporters of an Islamic opposition party clashed with police as they attempted to march on the house of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.
The protesters, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf, barged through a checkpoint manned by about 20 police and vandalized an armed personnel carrier deployed there.
Riot police halted them at another barricade closer to the official residence where Chaudhry has been kept under house arrest for the past three months.
Musharraf axed Chaudhry as chief justice on Nov. 3 when he assumed emergency powers for six weeks and purged the judiciary as the Supreme Court was about to rule on whether his October re-election as president was constitutional.
Musharraf's popularity is waning, not only among Islamist radicals but among liberal-minded Pakistanis, retired military officers, lawyers and intellectuals.
The elections are meant to usher in democracy after eight years of military rule under Musharraf, a key U.S. ally. But if the opposition gets a two-thirds majority in the legislature, it could impeach him.
Critics have alleged that Musharraf has failed to stem an increase in Islamic militancy. On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying military personnel to Pakistan army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, killing seven people.
In the eastern city of Lahore, intelligence agents have arrested seven Sunni Muslim militants, including two Afghans, an intelligence official said Tuesday.
The arrests were made in raids on Saturday and Tuesday, and the suspects include a bomb-making expert, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job.