Comment: His mother’s language, his father’s words

His test lies ahead, in the next few months, when the PPP readies for the elections.

Mazhar Abbas December 27, 2012
Bilawal’s debut comes not at a time when the politics of ideology prevails, as it did in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari made his political debut on the fifth death anniversary of his mother Benazir with a raft of promises to carry forward the legacy of the family of martyrs. While he spoke in fluent Urdu and with feeling, unlike his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and mother, the youngest chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came to the podium without the weight of experience.

Just a year back, Bilawal had made a poor speech in Urdu. He has, after all, spent most of his life outside Pakistan. But yesterday, it appeared that he has learned a lot since then and his father ensured he was well tutored. He appeared confident, so much so that on at least three occasions he relied on poetic verse to drive his point home. His tone was measured, he didn’t speak too loud and he tried to speak to the party workers instead of pontificate.

The substance of his speech had a strong Zardari flavour. Thus, he sounded more like his father than his mother and he was nowhere close to sounding like his grandfather.

But it would be unfair to expect this much from him.

The young Bhutto promised that he would not abandon party workers – he was not scared of death, rather morbid words but understandable given the family history. Bilawal stood firm in his resolve against extremism, evidenced by double references to the murder of Awami National Party leader Bashir Ahmad Bilour and the attempt on the life of Malala Yousufzai.

Like his father, Bilawal also made two or three factual mistakes. For instance, while paying tribute to Begum Nusrat Bhutto, President Zardari had said, “It was Begum Bhutto who laid the foundation of a politics of reconciliation, for the first time, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in jail.”

It is true that she was the first one to decide to join hands with leaders, some of whom had backed Bhutto’s execution. However, she laid the foundation of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in 1981 - two years after Bhutto was hanged and not when he was in jail.Bilawal’s

It appeared that Bilawal drew heavily from his father’s speech last year in which the president had criticised the judiciary. Without naming the Supreme Court or the chief justice, Bilawal asked about the fate of the Bhutto reference and Benazir’s case. The poor boy should have been briefed about the Bhutto case by Aitzaz Ahsan and the Benazir case by Rehman Malik and Farooq Naek. In fact, he should have asked his father why Benazir’s suspected killers and conspirators had not been arrested yet. Why had Musharraf not been brought in with Interpol’s help?

If one compares Bilawal’s political debut to that of Benazir’s, she was luckier on many fronts. She received her political training from none other than Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who always took her with him on foreign tours, including the one to Simla, and introduced her to former Indian premier Indira Gandhi. Benazir was even allowed to give interviews to Indian journalists.

Benazir’s political maturity was, in part, forged by her father’s meteoric rise. It was hammered home by the gallows. It was hewn by the hundreds and thousands of arrests, imprisonment and hangings. It was chiseled by her experience leading the party with her mother from the front.

By the time Bilawal was born, Benazir had already won an election and coined the slogan, “Democracy is the best revenge”.

Bilawal was just a boy when Benazir lost her first government and he was still young when she lost her second government. As a child he saw his father in jail and his mother fighting cases. He was old enough to be aware of the brutal murder of his uncle, Murtaza Bhutto, and that too during his mother’s tenure in 1996.

To her credit, Benazir did not hide from Bilawal why his father was in jail and why one of her closest party men, Farooq Leghari, sacked her government. During the takeover, she schooled her son in the differences between Zia and Musharraf as dictators - and why she was not as harsh with the second given the politics of reconciliation. Bilawal spent the 11 years of Musharraf’s reign in the UK, concentrating on his education.

He watched as his mother was attacked on her homecoming parade on October 18, 2007. He saw her soldier on.

And because of December 27, for him the political became the personal.

Bilawal’s debut comes not at a time when the politics of ideology prevails, as it did in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. As his father has demonstrated, today is the politics of adjustment, reconciliation. It is also a very different security climate. Bilawal may not be able to lead rallies as his mother did.

His test lies ahead, in the next few months, when the PPP readies for the elections. He will have to come into his own, speak his own mind. He will have to make his own politics.

The writer is the director of current affairs at Express News


Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.


mystreeman | 10 years ago | Reply

@Conspiracy Theorist: You mean just follow what establishment says; and establishemnt is Pro-Punjabi.

Ali S | 10 years ago | Reply

You know that something is really wrong with the chairman of PPP when the media is concerned more with his Urdu diction than the actual content. And considering the audience, he should have prepared his speech (or at least parts of it) in Sindhi to make it more relatable.

I feel sorry for Bilawal, he shouldn't be dragged into something he clearly isn't prepared for or meant to do just because of his lineage - it's not just undemocratic, it's an unnecessary risk for the kid (history has proven that nothing has benefited the PPP more than a 'martyred' Bhutto). I hope he gets the courage to walk away for his own sake, get a good education and live a comfortable life away from this drama of lineage politics which undermines whatever's left of democracy in this country.

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