A new Bhutto but the same, old order for Pakistan
Ending an anxious, five-year-long wait to take the helm of a deeply troubled country, the heir of two slain premiers and the son of the current president has made his political debut in Pakistan, whose history has, since birth, been clouded by its mighty military, its uneasy regional ties and its love-hate relationship with the West – not to mention a long list of other woes, including militancy, fraud, poverty and natural disasters.
Seemingly defying the daunting tasks that loom over Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari gave the first hints of his future political battle in a highly emotional speech on the day marking the fifth year after the assassination of his mother, Benazir Bhutto. Appearing before thousands of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) supporters with one of the most controversial politicians of Pakistan, his father, President Asif Ali Zardari, the young Bhutto vowed a tough fight against militants while bashing the judiciary for failing on his mother’s killing and reminding Pakistan of his family’s sacrifices for democratization.
Soon to turn 25 and thus become eligible to become the latest in the Bhutto dynasty to enter Pakistani politics, Bhutto Zardari’s launch of his political cannot come at a better moment. The popularity of his father, known as “Mr. 10 Percent” for his reputation for allegedly taking kickbacks on official contracts, has suffered a dramatic drop amid his ongoing quarrel with the military via the judiciary in a highly politicized fraud case. Seeking to lure more supporters with the Bhutto legacy and capitalize on the sympathy toward his mother, Bhutto Zardari will not run in the upcoming elections but will be the main asset for galvanizing his family’s PPP.
With questions looming over whether he will be able to give a boost to a PPP tarnished by his father’s actions, Bhutto Zardari effectively announced a personnel vendetta when he leveled harsh criticism at the judiciary, actually at Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in person, when he asked the judge if he couldn’t see the blood of Benazir Bhutto on the roads. He went on to say that the top judge was trying to prosecute his mother from her grave.
Despite his lecture about democracy and dictatorships, Bhutto Zardari failed to directly confront the powerful military and intelligence service and instead became a new actor in the proxy war between his father and the military by attacking the top judge, who poses a threat to Zardari’s rule with the backing of the top generals. His take on Chaudhry was not for nothing after all as the top judge, leading the Supreme Court – which has historically given military coups legitimacy in the past despite Chaudhry’s significant role in the fall of former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf – has already deprived Zardari of one prime minister in the fraud case.
What Bhutto Zardari avoided during his debut was also touching his would-be foreign policy drive amid the chilly ties with Pakistan’s traditional ally, the United States. During his speech, the Oxford graduate preferred to remain focused on domestic politics to a limited degree in spite of Islamabad’s ongoing problems with Washington over the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader and ongoing drone attacks on Pakistani soil, in addition to Pakistan’s role in the Afghan war. With the rising anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis, the young PPP leader obviously appeared to have no clear way in mind on how to restore ties with United States while not losing “the hearts and minds” of his people.
Despite his ambitious promises and high hopes placed on him, Bhutto Zardari seems far away from offering his country a fresh path leading to eventual democracy, stability and security. He may enjoy considerable support after the forthcoming elections, but if he fails to offer more, then Pakistan will enjoy nothing more than what the Bhuttos have so far suffered.