Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (BBZ) is leading the election campaign of the party formed by his grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), the elected Prime Minister (PM) of the country. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was the first real political outfit of the sole Islamic Democracy of the world of its time. The All India Muslim League the founding party of Pakistan was formed at Dacca in 1906 while PPP was launched at Lahore in 1967.

ZAB’s PPP emerged as a dominant democratic force that won 81 out of 138 national assembly seats in the Western Wing in the first and the only free and fair election of 1970. Disregard of the people’s mandate caused the breakup of Quaid’s Pakistan but it did usher in an era of civilian dominance. Though the period of democracy was brief (1971 -1977), its effects were lasting. Riding high on his popularity, ZAB decided to call early elections. Little did he know that a trap had been laid for him. The rest as they say is history.

Zia-ul-Haq the tormentor tried his best to eliminate the political influence of ZAB. He went to the extent of creating third rate civilian leadership of the likes of Sharifs and Chaudris but could not succeed. In the party-less elections of 1985 these GHQ created ‘Political Rogues’ managed to reach the elected parliament. After Zia’s exit, the elections in 1988 brought ZAB’s party back to power. Benazir Bhutto was able to keep Bhutto’s legacy and name alive through her relentless struggle and sacrifice. The baton has now been passed over to her son Bilawal.

As a genuine political force PPP had its ups and downs but was never out till Asif Zardari took control of the party. In its last stint in power (2008 – 2013) both at the centre and the province of Sindh, Zardari was able to transform the once progressive political outfit to a retrogressive entity like other parties in the arena with focus on financial gains only. What Benazir a Bhutto had resisted for decades within the party, her husband Asif A. Zardari succeeded in this transformation, in a short span of time.

The Bhuttos of Larkana and Zardaris of Nawabshah have nothing in common. The Benazir-Asif marriage was a total mismatch yet she managed to make it work. ZAB was son of Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto. He attended the prestigious Cathedral School in Bombay and then proceeded for higher education to University of Berkeley followed by Oxford University. Benazir followed her father’s path and attended Radcliffe College in USA followed by Oxford University. Her political struggle started earlier due to fall of her father’s government and imprisonment. By contrast Asif’s father Hakim Ali Zardari was a manager of Bombino Cinema in Karachi owned by Nawab of Junagarh. Asif attended St. Patrick’s school in Karachi and Cadet College Petaro. Nothing is known about his education level beyond that. He was introduced as a Polo Playing husband of Benazir, a claim that was never substantiated.

When Benazir was assassinated in 2007, Bilawal was studying at Oxford University. He returned to his motherland after completing his education at one of the top university of the word. Imran Khan is also a graduate of the same educational institution. Bilawal has tough choices to make. There was a time that only two options were available for the bold and lion hearted, “Ghazi ya Shaheed” but with the fall of Dacca in 1971, “Niazi” was also added to the list. Bhuttos lead from the front and are fearless fighters. Wheeling, dealing and compromise is not part of their way of life, they either prevail or fall with their boots on.

Before reaching the mantle of Prime Minister (PM) ZAB had solid credentials and experience which ensured effective governance. His file work was immaculate. The files and Baboos were moved at a rapid pace to deliver results. By contrast Benazir started her politics through agitation and resistance which turned her into a great street fighter but governance was not her forte.

While Benazir Bhutto earned her political wings, Asif Ali Zardari managed to become the President through marriage. He did face periods of imprisonment but he never headed movements like his spouse. Bilawal is talking sense which shows political maturity but he carries both the Bhutto credentials and the Zardari burden. For him to be his own man may take some time and a lot of hard work.

Coming elections will prove to be a test of his political sagacity. If he manages to enter the parliament his innings will start while the two real Bhutto’s (Sanam, Fatima) will be watching him closely. ZAB’s PPP was launched as an anti-establishment political entity which it has remained despite Zardari compromises. Will it remain a left of center progressive political force depends upon the leadership of Bilawal. If he takes the Bhutto course history will record his struggle and sacrifice but if he decides to go the Zardari route, then the bankers and accounts will surround him. Bhuttos were born rich making money was not their priority. Till 1985 politics in Pakistan were relatively clean. The Sharifs brought corruption to the political arena which changed the rules of the game. Zardari played by these rules and prospered, while the old guard and Comrades within the party did not. Dr. Mubashir Hassan the founding member of Bhutto’s party still lives in the same house and drives his old car. Bilawal should pay a visit to this grand old man of politics to get a feel of “Bhuttoism” before he fully launches himself in the murky political arena of Pakistan where four Bhutto’s died young (Zulfiqar, Shahnawaz, Murtaza, Benazir). It is indeed a tough act to follow for a Zardari, history will certainly record his choices and conduct as leader of the first progressive political outfit of Pakistan founded by his maternal grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.


The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation.