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There’s a New Bhutto in Town

Since his mother’s assassination in 2007, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been chairman of Pakistan People’s Party, and heir apparent to a prominent place in the country’s dynastic politics. This past week the 24 year old Oxford graduate made his first major televised political speech to ten of thousands of PPP supporters gathered at the Bhutto shrine in Sindh province:

“The beacon of democracy continues to shine,” he said, pledging that his party would fight militancy and extremism to create a peaceful, democratic Pakistan.


It was the first time that Pakistanis had heard Mr Bhutto Zardari speak live on radio and TV and he drew heavily on his family’s dynastic role at the heart of the country’s politics.

“Bhutto is an emotion, a love,” he was quoted as saying, adding that however many Bhuttos were killed, even more would emerge.

Bhutto has, so far, had a small public presence, but as he approaches his 25th birthday, the age at which he can contest an election, that’s about to change:

Over the next few months, Mr Bhutto Zardari is expected to play a bigger role in party politics, the BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani reports from the event in the city of Larkana.

But our correspondent says it will be a while before he emerges from the shadow of President Zardari, who will remain the de facto PPP head and its chief strategist in its bid to return to power next year.

The Bhuttos have held a central place in Pakistan’s politics since the country’s independence in 1947. The PPP party has had its fair share of criticism in recent years, and President Zardari, Bhutto’s father, has been dogged by corruption allegations. The party leaders now want to boost its prospects by hitching  themselves to the new Bhutto’s rising star. In a country in which politics is a family business, much may depend on the talents of this 24 year old.

It’s tempting to curse and revile this pampered young man in a nation of poverty as a privileged plutocrat, but privilege comes at a price. His mother and his grandfather were both killed by politics; Pakistan today is so violent that he faces even graver threats. Young Mr. Bhutto Zardari has a heavy load to carry; his willingness to step into the arena speaks well of his character and his courage.

We wish him well.

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