“I am his daughter, his most trusted aide and his right hand. Expertise can be acquired but not the zeal and commitment”. This was the statement of Maryam Nawaz Sharif while replying to a tweet that lambasted her presence in Prime Minister’s meetings.
With every political leader’s emergence in Pakistan, we have seen families rising to power instead of an individual. During the struggle for an autonomous Muslim state, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah worked shoulder to shoulder with Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, especially to encourage women to join the struggle for an independent Pakistan. Consequently, a women force emerged alongside Fatima Jinnah which contributed immensely to the freedom movement. Post-independence, she was seen as a strong woman who challenged the dictatorial role of Ayub Khan, thus making efforts to secure democracy in Pakistan. It was only because of her selfless service for Pakistan that the nation honoured her as ‘Madar-e-Millat’.
In 1970s, with the rise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as a popular awami and democratic leader, Pakistan saw a young Benzair kicking off her political career under her father’s guidance and training. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, besides being the first Asian woman to preside over the Oxford Union, she rose to become her slain father’s political successor, twice getting elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto continued to influence the people and forward the visions of her father during the 80s and 90s. However, unfortunately, she didn’t live long to transfer the same amount of political training to her children, especially Bilawal Bhutto, as she had received from her father.
2013-2017 spotted the emergence of two new political personalities, representing Bhutto and Sharif families. Maryam Nawaz Sharif is seen as a prominent figure working closely in her father’s administration and building image of PML-N as a sophisticated and educated political party and Bilawal Bhutto as Pakistan People’s Party chairperson, is trying to continue Bhutto’s vision under the direct supervision of former President Asif Ali Zardari.
Apart from differences in the personalities of the two newcomers, there are some similarities between them. Firstly, they belong to the families that have been elected successively one after the other, especially in the early 1980s and 1990s and are yet again emerging as the two political parties after Mushrraf’s coup that have for the first time carried a peaceful democratic transition in Pakistan. Secondly, both are foreign qualified - Maryam having a Master’s degree from the University of California while Bilawal being qualified from Oxford. Both have been through a lot of political struggle, especially, in case of Nawaz Sharif’s arrest in 1998 and Benazir Bhutto’s murder in 2007.
However, there is stark difference between Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto’s personalities and perception. Though, Bilawal Bhutto inherited good looks from his grandfather, he lacks the charisma that his grandfather and mother had. He is well groomed and foreign qualified but lacks the skills to communicate with the people of Pakistan. His weakness in Urdu language - our national language and is widely understandable inside Pakistan - leads to a nationwide criticism on him for not being able to communicate with the citizens of Pakistan. This, in turn, has built an impression in Pakistan that junior Zardari cannot cope with the Pakistani culture and customs- as Pakistan’s culture is not just limited to Sindh. Soon after Benazir Bhutto’s demise, his son was appointed the Chairperson of PPP, leaving behind every senior politician associated with PPP since Bhutto’s time. The party was thus converted from a democratic political institution to a fiefdom where the survivors inherited the throne from the parent. While delivering speeches, Bilawal seems to be not even aware of the background of what he is talking about. Zardari made efforts to kick start Bilawal’s political career and is expecting him to run for elections. But the question still remains whether he is capable of running in polls next year. Experts believe he is not mature enough to adjust in such a diverse society like Pakistan and would ultimately lead to dissatisfaction among its citizens. People are already raising questions on his abilities. But at the same time, there have been many instances where leaders (like Italian origin Sonia Gandhi) gradually made their impact on the citizens after repeated failures in the political milieu.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif, an educated, mature and articulate lady has learnt from the experiences of her father’s previous ruling eras. Though she is being widely criticized by the opposition parties and public for constantly interfering in the affairs of the Government and taking advantage of her father’s position, however, one positive aspect is that a fresh mind is actually putting in her viewpoints as well for running the government. So a Prime Minister’s daughter working side by side her father and giving quality input in the decisions is not harming the country rather the Government is utilizing a good brain.
If one is to believe that power of first children occurs only in Pakistan and neighboring India, like Rahul Gandhi following the traits of his family, then one is a little misguided.
It’s not just in Pakistan that the head of state emerges as a full force not individually but as a family. Elected leaders’ families have been playing a major role around the world and we cannot certainly avoid this terminology. In every presidential contest in the US since 1789, families have been rising to power instead of an individual. Some of these children have proved to be a blessing to their father, particularly, and the nation, generally, and have had a significant impact on the presidency. Alternatively, some have also tainted their father’s administration with corruption at large.
John Adams served as the second president of United States of America in 1797. He was pilloried when he appointed his son in his administration. The President was asked to resign in making his son a part of his administration. The opposition believed he was placing a dangerous precedent by giving job to a family member. However, the perception changed forthwith as his son proved to bean exalted lad. In his father’s administration, he renewed a treaty with Prussia and contributed in ending the War of 1812. However, Adams’ other children gave him a bad name because of their characters.
Similarly, the 19th President of United States, Rutherford Hayes appointed his son who had an aptitude for politics, as his private Secretary. Working closely with his father, he was able to strengthen his father’s firm stand on race relations. Rutherford’s son also worked as the official greeter of the White House in social functions. Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice once termed as the liability child proved to be a political asset. Serving as the goodwill ambassador in her father’s tenure, she cut the first turf for a summit between Russia and Japan that led to the end of the Russo-Japanese war. Woodrow Wilson, by asking his daughters to work with him, made a public impression of how important it was for women to vote.
The recently elected Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is the son of the former head of state Pierre Ellliot Trudeau. Following his father's death, Trudeau became more involved with the Liberal Party throughout the 2000s. He is known for his refugee friendly approach and policy that has been widely appreciated.
Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President Donald J. Trump, has been recently announced to be an unpaid employee of the White House, where she is expected to ‘lead initiatives driving real policy benefits for the American public’.
In short, censuring the children of political parties in Pakistan for giving their input in either running the affairs of the Government is unfair.
Some experts believe Bilawal Bhutto has neither the leadership qualities nor the support of the people that his mother and grandfather enjoyed. Rather, he is a tool in the hands of Zardari who has transformed the Bhutto-led party to Zardari-influenced party only. Some also believe that Panama Case would decide the fate of Maryam’s political career. If the decision comes against Sharif family; her political career would die down before its official launch.
In a recent article authored by Sherry Rehman, it was emphasized that Bhuttoism cannot be forgotten to which I totally agree, but at the same time we cannot relate the present PPP with Bhutto’s PPP. The present PPP is led by Zardari who is not loved by many in Pakistan and Bilawal is seen as being strongly influenced by his father and his close aides. I am not denying the political sparks in him that surely exist in his genes, however Bilawal’s desolate political future might become congenial, if he separates himself from Zardari influenced group who have a different ideology to pursue. Time will judge if Bilawal would be willing to take Imran Khan’s suggestion of reverting to his mother and grandfather’s ideology and distancing himself from his ‘unpopular’ father in order to revive Pakistan People’s Party.
People do have a soft corner for Bilawal because of his resemblance to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, however this God-gifted distinct appearance cannot turn him into a strong political leader. Maryam is a strong woman working closely with the Prime Minister’s office. She can prove to be an asset for Pakistan’s political structure, but it all depends upon the Panama case’s decision pending in the Supreme Court.
Let’s see how the political environment helps Bhutto’s and Zardari’s new generations unfold their respective political careers. However, I believe, criticizing astute brains, just because they are the sons and daughters of politicians is bigoted.