Getting off to a decent start


But challenges remain for the heir-apparent

Bilawar Bhutto Zardari’s first major public speech enthused his audience while PPP opponents also had good words for his choice of words and delivery. As Zardari put it, Bilawal’s training period has now begun. One hopes that as he moves out of the close and secure circle of unquestioning PPP loyalists who simply admire him, he will develop a more comprehensive understanding of the political reality of the country. The PPP Central Executive Committee has assigned him the task of leading the party’s election campaign, thus providing Zardari with an opportunity to resign from the party post as required by the LHC. The activity will provide Bilawal an opportunity to meet a cross section of the society, not only in Sindh but in other provinces also where a whole generation taking part in the elections may not be similarly under the spell of the PPP icons like ZAB and Benazir Bhutto.

Bilawal has had a good beginning but has yet to pass through the baptism of fire in order to be confirmed as the chief of what is still the largest party in the country. Like Benazir who did not simply inherit the mantle, Bilawal too will have to earn it. He is determined to carry out the mission of ZAB and BB marked by sacrifices without being deterred. And Bilawal would need much more than sheer fortitude to succeed. He will be required to display an understanding of the complex political, economic and social issues facing the country. It is fine to rattle off statistics like exports increasing to $25 billion, inflation decreasing from 25 to nine percent, remittances reaching $13 billion and the Karachi Stock Exchange 100-Index crossing 16,000. But he has to realise that millions living below poverty line and suffering food deprivation cannot eat figures nor use them for clothing. Again he might be surprised to find that few in Balochistan are willing to be satisfied by “apologies tendered to Baloch people” or “many decisions for their welfare and autonomy”. Populist slogans of a bygone era, particularly when they remind people of unfulfilled promises like ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ may actually strengthen cynicism instead of producing the desired effect. Bilawal must not forget that the PPP would be judged by the masses for its performance for an unprecedented period: a full term spanning five long years. He would be challenged to cope with the disadvantage of the negative fallout of the incumbency.

Bilawal displayed the right attitude when he said that he wanted to take along all political parties. As the PPP Central Committee has indicated there is a need to develop a consensus among the parties for a caretaker setup. Bilawal would hopefully take part in the negotiations as these would help him explore and develop the possibilities of further understanding. As a young Bhutto just entering politics he enjoys enough goodwill which he should use to win new friends and allies.