Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, vowed to continue his mother’s fight for democracy on Thursday night as he declared himself the heir to her political dynasty.
By Dean Nelson, Taha Siddiqui in Karachi
5:25PM GMT 27 Dec
In a rally before several hundred thousand supporters to mark the fifth anniversary of her assassination, the 24-year-old Oxford graduate formally launched his political career by vowing that the Bhuttos would never be silenced by violence.
He invoked his mother’s memory at the family’s mausoleum in Sindh’s Garhi Khuda Bakhsh and laid claim to its blood-soaked legacy, saying: “Bhutto is an emotion, a love.
“Every challenge is soaked in blood, but you will be the loser. How ever many Bhuttos you kill, more Bhuttos will emerge from every house.”
Although is too young to stand next year’s elections himself – the minimum age is 25 – Mr Bhutto Zardari is expected to be a figurehead of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party campaign in place of his father, President Asif Ali Zardari, who is barred from involvement.
In his speech on Thursday, he told supporters that he would continue his mother’s fight against poverty and demanded to know why her murderers had not yet been brought to justice five years after her assassination.
He also launched a frontal attack on the country’s chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who forced Yusuf Raza Gilani to step down as prime minister earlier this year over his reluctance to order a new corruption inquiry into his father.
“I asked the top judge, can’t you see the blood of Benazir Bhutto on the roads of Rawalpindi? I, as an heir of Bhutto, ask why the killers of my mother have not been punished,” he said.
Mr Bhutto Zardari’s emergence as the face of Pakistan’s largest political party marks a third generation of Bhutto leadership.
The party was created by his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1967 and was eventually taken over by his mother after Zulfikar was overthrown in General Zia’s 1978 coup and executed the following year.
Benazir Bhutto served two terms as prime minister, each terminated before completion, and later fled into exile in London and Dubai.
She was assassinated in a bomb and gun attack in 2007 as she waved to supporters following a rally in Rawalpindi. Her two brothers were also killed – Murtaza was gunned down by police outside the family’s home in Karachi in 1996 and Shahnawaz died in 1985 in a suspected poisoning.
Following Benazir’s death, her son was named as her chosen successor alongside Asif Zardari, but he remained in Britain to complete his studies and has kept a relatively low profile since his return to Pakistan. He is understood to have undergone intensive training in Pakistani political culture and the Urdu language to prepare him to lead the coming general election campaign.
Although the last campaign in 2008 was led by his father, it was the image of the ‘martyred’ Benazir Bhutto which sealed the victory which eventually saw Asif Zardari replace former military dictator General Musharraf as President.
President Asif Ali Zardari told the crowd that he was “filled with pride that the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and son of Benazir Bhutto is in your midst”.
“He has finished his studies and now it is time for his political training. He has to learn a lot from the people of Pakistan,” he said.
Security for the speech was tight – surveillance helicopters hovered overhead and police said more than 15,000 officers had been deployed, as well as some 500 government paramilitary forces.
Senior PPP figures told the Telegraph they had no concerns for Mr Bhutto Zardari’s political skills because he had, in effect, been in training since he was born. “He was already shaped by being with his mother which was his learning process. Oxford polishes people very well. He has very good eye contact, he’s very pragmatic and sensible. His style is more like his mother, he’s very thorough like her. But he is respectful and humble like his father – he is not proud,” said one minister who has known him since childhood.
Pakistani political analysts however said his elevation was a gambit to distract voters from the government’s poor record in government with the Bhutto family’s glamour. “Bilawal is the only card that is left with the political party that his grandfather launched. In almost five years of their rule, they have not delivered on any account. Now they are trying to make it up by introducing a fresh face. They are banking on him now,” said Rasul Bakhsh Raees, professor of political science at Lahore University.
“The party has always thrived on the name of Bhutto. It is the legacy of Bhutto and the sacrifices they made that they are trying to resell but the public has become smarter than that and this strategy will not work,” he added.