January 7, 2013

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Entitled or Enlightened?

Last week in Pakistan, the son of the country’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari, and the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto – who was assassinated for her political beliefs – made his first political speech to his fellow countrymen as the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 24, stepped out to the crowd of people on the fifth anniversary of his mother’s assassination, to present his vision for Pakistan’s political future. The PPP is a party traditionally rooted in socialism, and was in power in Pakistan prior to the country’s second military coup that resulted in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s execution (Zulfikar was Benazir’s father and Bilawal’s grandfather). After the collapse of the third military coup in Pakistan, the downfall of General Pervez Musharraf, and the ineffective leadership of Bilawal’s father, Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan has been increasingly unstable and impoverished, and has also provided safe haven to terrorists, most notably Osama bin Laden. A new generation of leadership in Pakistan has the potential to usher in an era of modernization, compassion, and globalized values, and Bhutto Zardari could be the one for the job.

Crowd in Pakistan. Image via Flickr by boellstiftung

Crowd in Pakistan. Image via Flickr by boellstiftung

Nepotism has been the preferred modus operandi for the Bhutto-Zardari family, and Bilawal’s party post indicates that there is no intention to change that practice. Western critics have criticized Bilawal’s rise to PPP leadership as corrupt; the New York Times asserted that his only qualification to hold the position is “that he is the son of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and grandson of the late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.” This is certainly the case for the political neophyte, and speaks volumes about the gap in opportunity between those born into political families who are provided top-notch education and the average citizen of country with a drastic wealth (and power) disparity. However, in a country trying to stabilize itself amid the quantity and caliber of challenges that Pakistan is facing, the sense of hope that Pakistanis felt from Benazir’s leadership could well be resumed under Bilawal. His mother took the party reigns at the similarly young age of 29, and was a transformational figure in Pakistan in the 1980′s.

Benazir Bhutto. Image via Flickr by liber(the poet)

Benazir Bhutto. Image via Flickr by liber(the poet)

While political power is almost exclusively concentrated among graybeards around the world, the infusion of youth into national leadership brings 21st century values into the task of tackling problems like terrorism, hunger, poverty, and local access to politics. As a millennial with an Oxford education and a political pedigree, Bhutto Zardari has understanding of technology, the power of social media, and the value of working with international partners that will supplement the lasting tenets of the PPP such as social justice, economic equality, and widespread education. He made his breakout speech in sufficient, if not perfect, Urdu- the primary language of most Pakistanis, but not his own mother tongue, which is English. This was not only a symbol of his dedication to appeal to the general population, but also the willingness of leaders and activists of Bhutto Zardari’s generation to speak more than one language- a key diplomatic tool for engaging with the world beyond one’s own borders. Youth movements have become increasingly visible and effective in exacting change across the globe, and activists have made major traction against inequality, political oppression, and corruption in IranRussiaKuwait, and the United States. However to have a member of the millennial generation leading a national party, with the possibility to be elected Prime Minister, is nearly unprecedented.

Beyond the fact that a young leader can bring energy, modernity, and idealism to the spotlight in a country like Pakistan, the substance of Bhutto Zardari’s introductory speech invited Pakistanis to stand by his objectives of eliminating terrorism from Pakistan, returning to a peaceful and secular democracy, and increasing economic aid and educational opportunities for the poor. He invoked Malala Yousafzai, a teenag girl who was targeted by the Taliban for pursuing education, as a symbol for how Pakistani women, like his own mother, can prosper under a functional democracy free from religious zealotry. He acknowledged that his family legacy is the source of his strength and inspiration, while also exuding a sense of understanding that the challenges in Pakistan cannot be tackled by legacy alone.

Critics and commentators are right when they note Bhutto Zardari’s lack of political experience as a hindrance to his upcoming leadership of the party going into the 2013 elections, which have yet to be announced. And there is no doubt that idealism alone will not carry a country or resolve complicated issues. But perhaps a healthy dose of idealism, youthful spirit, and global values is what Pakistan needs to reverse its pattern of dictatorships, terror, and religious extremism. Only time will tell, but there is great reason to be optimistic for Pakistan’s future.

This article was written by Erin Wiliamson, and was originally published on The Urban Times.

About the Author

Urban Times
The Urban Times is an Optimistic Forward-Thinking Digital Magazine - Talking about current issues and solutions that impact our global future.


  1. ghori sahib

    It would be interesting to see if he could really become a progressive politician for Pakistan. There are a few flaws he has as a politician for a country such as Pakistan.

    1. He has never lived in Pakistan, nor visited Pakistan
    2. He probably visited Karachi, and Islamabad, moreover, he probably has visited where his family has wealthy estates, and lots of security, so he has never seen the “real” Pakistan.
    3. He knows nothing about the country he will inherit as leader, he simply will be following in the footsteps of his father, mother, and grand father,two of whom were brutal and highly corrupt.
    4. He has lived most of his life in the safety and modernity of England and Dubai, so where is his idea of Pakistan, and what does he bring to the table?
    5. He has never done anything politically, and what he will bring to the table or what his father has told him could possibly harm Pakistan even further. He doesn’t know about how bad the corruption is in Pakistan, yet alone how badly the country of Pakistan needs an outsider, as in not from his family and someone who isn’t biased towards familial ideas.

    Yes, he did study at Oxford, and he studied politics, but I question his understanding of politics, especially Pakistani politics. If he were to be the leader of Pakistan, he also has to know about Pakistan’s foreign allies, and I highly doubt he knows anything besides what he has read, about American politics and foreign policy, or even anything about Afghan politics. I am not a perfect person, nor am I a politician, but I understand from visiting my family in Pakistan plenty of times to see and understand why he isn’t the best for the country.

  2. Ellinor

    If he is anything like his father (infamously known for his corruption as “Mister Ten Percent”), let’s hope he does not come to power.
    Fatima Bhutto has an excellent book, “Songs of Blood and Sword”, about Pakistan’s most powerful family. Definitely worth a read.

  3. salma

    @IPF, THANKS for this post. it made me to visit your forum and find it quite interesting & informative.
    this particular post z a good read. As a pakistani, i agree with the author that we need to wait and see what this young man,Bilawal, has to offer to the Pakistan masses. Bilawal bhutto was confident & articulate during his first address to tens of thousands of his party supporters. the best part about his speech is that he z very clear about his views on terrorism. not many politicians come forward with a clear stand against the terrorist b/c they donot want to risk their lives but the young bhutto took a clear and strong stance against the atrocities of taliban and alqaeda. bilawal z a new face in pakistani politics but he z heading pakistan’s largest political party. only time will tell how bilawal z going to infuse new ideas into his party and carry the legacy of his mother forward.and make pakistan a stable, liberal and progressive pakistan.and i wish him good luck.
    @ Ellinor, its unfair to judge Pakistan and its politics merely by reading a book full of contradictions and half-truths. fatima bhutto z a political non-entity in pakistan. its a known fact that fatima hold a grudge against benazir bhutto b/c fatima’s father failed to make an impact in pakistani politics unlike benazir. moreover, she failed to mention in her book the role pakistan intelligence agencies played during 1990’s when her father returned to pakistan and was killed in a controversial police encounter during benazir govt. the interesting fact is that benazir’s govt. was dismissed a few weeks later by her appointed president of pakitan citing amongst other reasons the death of mutaza(fatima’s father).thus ,pakistani establishment,(read:army, agencies, judiciary)….. KILLED TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE. benazir bhutto govt was dismissed and also mutaza bhutto who in the past run an armed struggle against pakistan military in 1980’s was also killed. later on,benazir bhutto was also assassinated in 2007 when she returned to pakistan. main culprits r alqaeda, taliban and military janta of that time working under General Musharraf. Moreover, Like any developing country, corruption is one of the major problems of pakistan’s economic woes. Mr.Zardari has faced 11 years of prison on corruption charges but judiciary failed to convict him in a single case. Let us not forget that in Pakistan corruption z also used as an EXCUSE to topple all elected govt in pakistan.its strange that no such reason z cited when dictators fail to improve economic condition of poor massses in their decade long tenures..
    @GHORI SHAHIB, we need to give bilawal some time and need not to jump on conclusions…in his first press conference after his mother’s death,bilawal made it clear that being raised outside pakistan was never his choice..his mother had to take the 3 young kids in exile when she was hounded by strong right wing govt. backed by strong establishment. however,bilawal z raised in a political family and has seen many ups and downs in his me, he comes across as a quick learner. but will need sometime to get out of the shadow of the senior party members to take full control of the party.

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