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OPINION | Bilawal Bhutto's Davos Speech Was a Coming Of Age Moment

Bilawal is definitely a new star on Pakistan’s political horizon that Bhutto supporters and PPP voters had been anxiously waiting for. Each and every line of his speech got full endorsement from a roaring crowd in the Golden Anniversary public meeting in Islamabad and plaudits in Davos.

WAJID SHAMSUL HASAN |

Updated:January 31, 2018, 2:58 PM IST
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OPINION | Bilawal Bhutto's Davos Speech Was a Coming Of Age Moment
File photo of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. (Image Courtesy: Reuters)
It is a rare event in history when the future of a nation is tied to that an unborn child. I can say this without fear of contradiction that we have one such individual in Pakistan — Bilawal Bhutto Zardari — earmarked by nature to play a larger than life role.

Unfortunately, not many have thought of the fact that this child was destined to be the leader of the nation much before he was born.

I would like to emphasise the role stars play in determining the future course of a nation or individual’s life. People who are associated with Pakistan politics would recall certain turn of events preceding the general elections in November 1988. One can co-relate it to the Geneva Accord on the Soviet withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan—a major decision taken by Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo in consultation with PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto and other senior leaders.

Ominous was the blowing up of the huge Ohjiri Arms Depot at Faizabad, appointment of General Aslam Beg as Vice Chief of Army Staff by Junejo without consulting President Zia-ul-Haq. This forced Zia to dismiss the PM, one had chosen himself, that led to “rebellion” by generals resulting in the mysterious crash of C-130 on August 17, 1988.

General Zia was so confident of his grip on power, hold on the army and ISI that he did not understand that time and tide wait for none and, as Roman philosopher Cicero said, certain signs precede ominous events.

Instead of calling it a day, Zia preferred to buy extension by sacrificing black goats every week. I remember the group interview he gave us two months before his fall from the sky, reiterating boisterously that he would not give up his army uniform and would ‘die with his boots on’. How prophetic!

Benazir’s tumultuous return to Pakistan in April 1986 and the global environment opening floodgates of democratic change assured the inevitability of elections, especially after Prime Minister Junejo’s dismissal. Zia was scared of Bhutto and the landslide electoral victory waiting for her. He designed the polls to be held at such a time when she was pregnant. And as the incredible story goes, Zia assigned ISI, MI and IB to find out when she was due for delivery so that she could not carry out a vigorous election campaign.

Much to the machinations and planning by ISI apparatus, Bilawal was born earlier and Zia’s plans didn’t materialise. When I look back, I am amused how poorly our intelligence agencies performed. Whether Bilawal would like to share this story with a wild smile on his face or not, I fondly remember how our “dearest Bibi” used to narrate instances of intelligence failure, about her pregnancy and her being a graduate.

Many of his narrow-minded critics continue to be uncharitable in assessment of the enormous potential Bilawal has lately shown following his very pragmatic and objectively loaded sense of direction in December last year at the time of the 50th foundation anniversary of the party.

As he rightly said recently in his Davos speech and an interview, Pakistan needs a progressive voice to eliminate politics of hate and mudslinging by major political parties. “PPP has always been a progressive party. That’s the way forward. That’s the kind of politician I want to be,” he said.

Bilawal also said that his mother’s mission to serve the people motivated him to choose politics. “My mother was assassinated for opposing extremists. I did not choose a life in politics. It chose me,” he added.

Bilawal also put to shame senior politicians and their lack of understanding of the art of diplomacy when he dilated about the relationship between India and Pakistan. He assured that a one-way approach would not solve issues and that reservations of both the countries should be discussed in order to break the impasse through pragmatism and statesmanship.

“India and the rest of the world think that they can just dictate Pakistan and that’s not how a partnership works or is built. We need to have a discussion over reservations of both countries with each other,” he said.

Bilawal is not the continuation of the politics of status quo like PML-N and PTI leadership. Whenever there is a grim situation, or an occasion that demands a forthright stand against retrogressive force, he has not hesitated in taking the bull by the horn. He has the dare of his mother and her dauntless determination too, to face the extremists and to take tough decisions when challenges are onerous.

Tall, handsome, educated with the magical touch of his late mother and the flair of his grandfather, the emergence of Bilawal is indeed the most important political development in Pakistan and will have far reaching impact.

His heart warming speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos has made the nation proud.

Bilawal is definitely a new star on Pakistan’s political horizon that Bhutto supporters and PPP voters had been anxiously waiting for. Each and every line of his speech got full endorsement from a roaring crowd in the Golden Anniversary public meeting in Islamabad and plaudits in Davos. His popularity is a reminder of the old glory days of PPP when Zulfikar Butto and Benazir would regale crowds with their oratory.

Notwithstanding the fact that times have changed and there are growing security constraints, Bilawal will have to shed that status quo tag and must expand his attempt to connect with the voters. Like his grandfather and mother, he should venture into populist activities such as organising and participating in sporting activities or breaking bread with the common man. His preference should be to be seen with younger elements rather than be surrounded and discard the political ruins.

The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist

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