Pakistan's Zardari, Once on the Sidelines, Eyes Presidency
By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post, September 5, 2008; A10
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 4 -- Two decades ago, Asif Ali Zardari was virtually unknown in the high-flying political circles in which his new wife, Benazir Bhutto, traveled.
When the son of a cinema owner married the daughter of a legendary president, he told reporters that he had no taste for politics. "One politician in a family is enough," Zardari said.
But since Bhutto was assassinated in December, Zardari has demonstrated an enormous appetite for what he once claimed to reject. He has taken control of his wife's Pakistan People's Party, led it to its ruling perch in the country's government and, on the eve of a parliamentary vote, positioned himself as the leading contender to replace his wife's onetime nemesis, Pervez Musharraf, as president of the republic.
If Zardari is elected Saturday, his ascension will consolidate his party's hold on the government and bring a new era in U.S.-Pakistan relations after years of White House backing for Musharraf's military rule. Faced with intensifying U.S. demands to quash the threat from the rising Taliban insurgency within the country's borders, Pakistan's next president will have to navigate the choppy waters of the country's alliance with the United States at a time when anti-American sentiment here has never been stronger.
Analysts say Zardari may be just the man for the job of managing the Pakistan-U.S. alliance. He is a former resident of New York's affluent Upper East Side. He often chooses well-tailored two-piece suits over the traditional, loose-fitting salwar-kameez that is the de rigueur dress of politicians in this majority-Muslim nation.
"He is much more aligned with the U.S., and even more so after his wife's death," said retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a leading political analyst. "He is also by temperament and background oriented toward the West."
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