Zardari sidelines Benazir's confidants

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Islamabad, September 1 : Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has sidelined almost all confidants of his wife.

According to the Times Online, Bhutto's top advisers from her party, including her political secretary and closest friend, who cradled her as she died, have been sidelined.

Zardari took control of Bhutto's Pakistan People's party (PPP) shortly after her death and led it to an election victory, invoking her memory and capitalising on the public grief that followed her death.

Bhutto was killed on December 27 last year by an assassin's bullet as she waved to supporters at an election rally in Rawalpindi.

Zardari is expected to become Pakistan's president this week in an election that will formally acknowledge him as the country's most powerful man.

Party members of the PPP at the National Assembly pledged their loyalty to him last week, but behind the scenes party stalwarts whom Bhutto had relied upon are angry at the way her closest aides have been humiliated.

Zardari's aides have blamed Bhutto's most trusted advisers for her death, accusing them of failing to protect her from the assassins who killed her in a sniper and suicide bomb attack.

Their target was Naheed Khan, Bhutto's devoted political secretary and inseparable friend for more than 20 years.

Khan, who has been sidelined since the assassination, was sitting next to Bhutto in a bullet-proof Land Cruiser when she was shot while waving to supporters through the sun-roof.

Last month Zulfiqar Mirza, the Sindh Home Minister and a close aide of Zardari, claimed Khan had been in charge of Bhutto's security on the day she was killed and that she had declined his offer of volunteer guards.

Khan's husband, Safdar Abbasi, another Bhutto adviser, had argued with her police detail and dismissed them.

Abbasi and Khan said their concern was that the party remains true to Bhutto's vision.

Meanwhile, Bhutto loyalists have accused Zardari of wasting his the first six months in government. They believed their former leader would have hit the ground running.

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