Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s journey from completely irrelevant to moderately important has been a swift one. After Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s (PPP) defeat in the May 2013 elections, the party has reintroduced the 25-year-old as the torch-bearer of the Bhutto legacy with hopes to rekindle the flame that many fear has burnt out. The rebranding of this latest commodity to enter the political market of Pakistan has been carried out by way of limited but charged speeches and of course, Twitter. Perhaps one national issue that has been heavily relied upon to bring the spotlight on Bilawal is that of terrorism. During a time when almost all mainstream political parties appear inclined towards making good with the TTP, Bilawal has been extremely vocal in opposing both terrorists and their sympathizers. The idea is to take a dangerously strong stance on the matter, and shine in contrast. The content of his speeches reveals regular (over)use of rhetoric and sloganeering that the PPP has always depended upon. The little substance that does exist is received with skepticism as many still have their doubts over whether Bilawal in fact means, or even understands, what he says increasingly passionately. However, credibility is not a Bilawal-specific problem. Most statements issued by politicians from across the spectrum undergo similar criticism, and more often than not, the scrutiny is legitimate.
What makes Bilawal’s case appear dubious is his party’s conflicting position in Parliament. One can often find the leader of the party say one thing and the leader of the opposition contradict him. This incoherence and inconsistency raises serious questions: does Bilawal hold any sway over his party-members seated in the National Assembly? If not, then who is calling the shots? The most likely answer would be Bilawal’s father, former President, Asif Ali Zardari. In that case, the claim that all Bilawal says is purely for public consumption doesn’t appear to be an outrageous assumption after all. If the PPP continues to play duplicitous politics on matters that pose an existential threat to the country, it cannot expect its leader to be taken seriously. That being said, it is also important to understand that even selfish acts of political leaders can sometimes coincide with national interests. This is quite true in Bilawal’s case. He must be appreciated for positively contributing to the weak anti-extremism narrative. If one agrees that wars in today’s world are fought through narratives as much as guns, then Bilawal stands out as the one on the (left) right side, saying all the things that need to be said and heard, but aren’t out of fear or complicity. If only his own party starts acting on what he so devotedly preaches.