The rise of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Much more than a poster boy of Pakistan’s family-dominated politics

Published: February 1, 2018
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In the midst of the political tussle between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been a distant observer for the large part. For a party with rock solid ideological roots, this is not a healthy sign. For a party that has historically been Pakistan’s most potent left-wing force at the federal level, this is even worse.

The PPP was outmuscled, outwitted and completely blown away in the 2013 General Election. Statistically, the PPP’s seat count in the National Assembly went down to 42 seats from the 118 it won in the 2008 General Election. This was, in no small part, down to PPP’s poor performance during its governance from 2008 to 2013.

As our political web unfolded following the 2013 election, the general feeling was that the PPP was redundant and dead as a political entity, with the elections functioning as one of the last nails in its coffin. The old guard had been put to shame, and the new one went unnoticed. As things stand currently, not a lot has changed. PPP seems to have little hope in the upcoming election, and sadly, it has been reduced to a regional party at best.

However, a recent interview given by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to India Today has been a breath of fresh air. He touches on several important issues, such as terrorism and the army’s role in Pakistan, amongst others.

While still operating under the wings of his father, there is already a vibe about Bilawal that is a far cry from the political mudslinging that takes place in Pakistani politics these days. Neither PTI nor PML-N have someone like Bilawal in their ranks, and therein lies PPP’s advantage.

It is ironic that in the wake of the recent political instability in Pakistan, the youngest head of a political party in the country is the one making the most sense, and serving as our best international representative. Not only does he display political maturity that seems to be light years ahead of PML-N and PTI on local issues, his stance on foreign issues is equally impressive, from India to the United States.

However, despite his recent growth as a political force, Bilawal continues to face a barrage of criticism from Pakistan’s conservative circles. The criticism against him is based around the argument that he is too young and too immature to be taken seriously. This criticism is likely to continue in the future, but nonetheless it carries little weight. Age is not, and will never be, an accurate determinant of skill and ability. This is not to suggest that Bilawal has learnt everything there is to learn, of course, as he has only just entered the political arena. However, the signs are extremely encouraging in his favour.

Then there are those who will claim that he is the poster boy of family-dominated politics in Pakistan. We can beat that drum as much as we want, however, family politics is a reality in Pakistan and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Moreover, this is a phenomenon not limited to PPP alone. When all is said and done, political positions should be treated on the basis of merit and without any prejudice. Family politics or not, the right stance should be supported regardless of who it is coming from.

Bilawal’s rise and PPP’s resurgence are interlinked. Despite PTI’s entrance in the 2013 General Election as the new force in Pakistani politics, PPP still remains the country’s most ideologically principled party. The party may be at its lowest ebb right now, but Bilawal offers an energy and maturity that is missing from both, PTI and PML-N. He also brings with him a massive political legacy, first built by his charismatic grandfather, and further honed by his indomitable mother.

There is obviously quite a lot of baggage, amid accusations of corruption levelled against his father and his party. Therefore, for a party that for the most part has remained progressive, Bilawal’s rise is extremely important. For a country where attempts at thwarting democratic forces are the norm, this is even more important.

One hopes that Bilawal’s rise continues the way it has done thus far. He will eventually need to be given a bigger role in the party than the one currently occupied by him – one where his father does not call all the shots – but the signs so far point towards the right direction. Not only does the PPP need Bilawal to rise, Pakistani politics needs Bilawal to break free from the shackles of the redundant power struggles that ultimately do more harm than good.

More power to him!

salman Zafar

Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as @salmanzafar1985 (twitter.com/salmanzafar1985)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.