With his political fortunes in a constant state of decline, one can understand the need on the part of Zardari for someone in the family to shore him up over the next three years and then take his place in days to come. Since Benazir’s assassination Zardari has tried to prepare his son for the job. Many in the PPP also would feel relieved if Bilawal was to take Zardari’s place.
While all the three Benazir children have been inducted into public life one way or the other, Zardari has relied on Bilawal as his political successor. Within days of Benazir’s death, Bilawal was appointed co-chairman of the PPP at a hastily called press conference at a London hotel. Here Bilawal vowed to join politics after completing his studies. Soon after attempts started at grooming him in politics. Zardari took the Oxford undergraduate with him to meet President Obama last May. Early this month, Bilawal stood beside his father and President Sarkozy during the official photo call. A few days’ later, media carried his photograph along with that of sister Asifa with Prime Minister David Cameron at Chequers.
As Zardari proceeded abroad early this month, reports appeared in Pakistani media, indicating that an important PPP meeting was to be held in UK during Zardari’s presence. Bilawal’s pictures with two European leaders led many to conclude that one of the aims of Zardari’s visit to UK was to launch Bilawal’s political career. Zardari, who was already under criticism for leaving for Europe at a moment of national emergency, was now criticised for spending thousands of pounds to launch the political career of his son.
Was it on account of hostile public opinion that Bilawal declined to go along with his father’s plans, or was it an expression of independence from his father? Is Bilawal his own master now or is depending on his father for taking political decisions? It would be premature to answer the questions. Be it as it may, there are many who think it was a sensible decision to proceed to London to open a spot at Pakistan High Commission for collection of funds for the flood victims rather than going to Birmingham. Bilawal made it known that instead of entering politics right away he would continue to pursue his studies in Britain. This could indicate that he is able to take decisions independently. But his defense of Zardari’s unpopular visit to France and UK, saying this was justified as it had helped raise funds for the flood victims, would, however, show that he has faith in his father’s judgment. “If he thought he could be more useful in Pakistan, I am sure he would be there,” he said.
Meeting state dignitaries in the US, France and Britain might seem the best way to Zardari to induct Bilawal into politics, but a political, CV which contains little other than dynastic claims, an Oxford degree, and photographs with foreign dignitaries may not sustain Bilawal in the rough and tumble of politics in Pakistan. Benazir had all these credentials, plus something more important, which Bilawal has yet to prove he too possesses it.
While Benazir inherited her father’s mantle, she proved over the years that she was a leader in her own right. Her courageous struggle against a military dictator, who had got her father executed, was a heroic saga which showed she possessed an unusual amount of courage. Soon after her father’s execution, she was kept under house arrest between 1977-79 from time to time. She, in fact, remained in detention for about five years, including ten months in solitary confinement. As Murtaza Bhutto challenged her, PPP workers sided with her as they considered her to be the true political descendant of ZAB. This was unusual in a society, which is otherwise known to be prejudiced against women.
Benazir had an intellectual capacity that Biblical with his high second class graduation from Oxford called 2:1 has yet to exhibit. Her academic career, both at Harvard and Oxford was much brighter. While Bilawal has remained generally aloof from on-campus extra-curricular activities, Benazir had won the presidential election for Oxford Union, thus becoming the first Asian woman ever to assume the office. In MRD she worked together with some of the leaders, who had fought against her father, which was a proof of her political sagacity.
While Benazir inherited the mantle of ZAB, Bilawal has to prove that he is different from his unpopular father. This is not going to be an easy task. He could have done this by coming to Pakistan at this critical juncture to undertake relief work in flood-affected areas. This would have been an indication of commitment to masses. His presence would have galvanized PPP workers, making them active in relief work. The move would have benefited him politically much more than all the pictures with the world leaders. It would have shown that he was committed to the people. What is more, spending a year in his country would have given him an understanding of Pakistan no books can provide. This would in no way have been unusual as students often take a year off for earning money or for internship.
It remains to be seen if Bilawal takes after Zardari or Benazir. Presently, there is nothing to show whether he has the mettle and the vision that his mother possessed. To many he remains an unknown entity.