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Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Pakistan's fast-rising 'gen-next' politician
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already been disqualified from Pakistan politics by the biased judiciary working under the influence of Pakistan army and Imran Khan, who is being labelled as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. The third national leader Asif Ali Zardari is literally fighting to regain his lost political fiefdom in the country. It seems Pakistan's political leadership is in disarray before the next general elections due in July 2018.

Amongst all national-level politicians of Pakistan, however, there is one exceptional young man, who is fast emerging as an upcoming leader in Pakistan's national politics. He is Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the grandson of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the eldest son of late Benazir Bhutto.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the eldest son of former Pakistan Prime Minister late Benazir Bhutto and former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. He was born on September 21, 1988 in Karachi. He has two younger sisters viz. Bakhtawar Bhutto and Aseefa Bhutto. Although he attained his initial education in Karachi, from 1999 to mid-2007, Bilawal Bhutto spent his childhood in exile along with his mother Benazir Bhutto, mostly in the United Kingdom and Dubai. Like his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and mother Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto also studied at the Oxford University and holds a master's degree from there.

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was made chairman of PPP on 30 December 2007 and at the young age of 19 years. But it was in December 2011 that he took over the party's affairs almost single handedly following his father Asif Ali Zardari's illness and the latter's visit to Dubai on account of seeking medical treatment. However, by the year 2013 he developed serious differences with his father Asif Ali Zardari over the affairs of the party on some major issues including militant violence, sectarian attacks against Shias, distribution of party tickets to youth and PPP's support to political party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

Shockingly, in September 2012, Bilwal Bhutto Zardari's image was tarnished on social media after a news item appeared in a Bangladeshi tabloid about his alleged illicit relationship with the then Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who is much senior to him in age.

Differences between son and father further grew and in November 2015, Bilwal Bhutto Zardari left Pakistan and returned only after being persuaded by his two younger sisters on June 1, 2015. During his self-imposed exile in London for about seven months he gave a miss to important events such as his mother's death anniversary on November 5 and the party's Founding Day on November 30, 2014, in Lahore. On the issue of Bilawal's leaving Pakistan, Zardari had said that his son needed time to achieve the maturity required for politics. After his return to Pakistan, Bilwal started taking more interest in the party's affairs and since 2016 has been concentrating on reorganizing the PPP by infusing more young blood into the party and making it stronger at districts level to face 2018's general elections.

However, his party, the PPP, suffered a setback in early 2017 when some senior party leaders, including Noor Alam Khan, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Nazar Mohammad Gondal switched their allegiance and joined Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In the meanwhile, media reports have indicated that Bilwal has been sidelined by his father and co-chairman of PPP Asif Ali Zardari in wake of the upcoming 2018 general elections which would surely affect his image and the party's performance in the elections.

On Indo-Pak relations, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's stand is almost identical with his late mother Benazir Bhutto's foreign policy on India. While he advocates the policy of peaceful co-existence with India, he favours solving the Kashmir issue as per UN resolutions. However, despite being young and lacking requisite experience at national level politics, he is clever enough to arouse his countrymen's' sentiments on Kashmir occasionally, apparently to remain in the limelight.

While addressing his party workers (Multan, September 20, 2014) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had inter alia angrily said, "I will take back Kashmir, all of it, and I will not leave behind a single inch of it because like the other provinces, it belongs to Pakistan."

However, in an all-party meeting on Kashmir, which was convened by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 2016 after India's surgical strike in POK, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had advised Nawaz Sharif against any military solution to the Kashmir issue. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had also indirectly opposed (April 11, 2017) the death sentence of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav saying that the although the issue was controversial, his party was against capital punishment "on principle".

Surprisingly, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is richer than his father Asif Ali Zardari. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) recently evaluated his assets to be worth over (Pak) Rs 1.54 billion. His assets include hundreds of acres of agricultural land at several places in Sindh; big bungalows in capital city Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and hill station Murree; offshore accounts; and properties including in the United Kingdom and Dubai. Most of movable and immovable properties he had received as gifts from his grandfather ZA Bhutto and mother Benazir Bhutto.

Interestingly, Bilawal has more assets in the United Arab Emirates than he has in Pakistan and has extended over Rs1.24 billion loan to four companies from the money he had inherited from his mother Benazir Bhutto after her assassination.

While Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has already launched election campaign-2018, in Lahore on June 5, 2018, he has many challenges before him to revive the old popularity of PPP, which since 2013 elections, has been waning. He has to make concerted efforts to regain the support base of his late mother Benazir Bhutto, particularly in Punjab province, which has maximum National Assembly seats and would decide the fortune of PPP in the impending elections. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is a young national leader and has the potential to garner support from the country's young electorate. On the sidelines, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also must iron out political differences with his father Asif Ali Zardari's to strengthen the PPP.

Despite the fact that his father Asif Ali Zardari's tainted image had adversely affected the party's popularity in the 2013 general elections, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari cannot afford to ignore his father's decades old political experience, which might come in handy in post-2018 election manoeuvres especially if the need for negotiations arises for forming an alliance may be with Imran Khan's PTI for sharing power.

Undoubtedly, Bilawal being a young and educated man has brought a fresh look to his party and would definitely play a major role in Pakistan's politics, for years to come. Since he has already attained the requisite age of 25 years to contest elections, his entry in the National Assembly would definitely help him in gaining stature of a national leader and prove his political mettle as the PPP chief.

Absorbingly, Bilawal is also called 'Rahul Gandhi of Pakistan' since both Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Rahul Gandhi are scions of political dynasties of their respective countries, their parents, ancestors having held posts of highest order like Prime Minister and President in their respective countries.  Interestingly, the political future of both will also be decided almost together soon, in July 2018 for Bilawal and in April 2019 for the Gandhi scion.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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Sandeep Chheda
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