Bilawal plans series of rallies to challenge Sharif govt


PPP chairman says like head of every political party he’s also looking to expand his vote bank to gain more seats

The scion of Pakistan’s leading political dynasty, emerging from the shadow of his mother and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto seven years after she was assassinated, has vowed to resurrect her party’s flagging fortunes.

In an interview since his major rally at a weekend gathering of hundreds of thousands of supporters, Oxford-educated Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told foreign news agency Reuters that he planned a series of rallies in a challenge to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“Like any politician, like the head of any political party we are looking to expand our vote bank, make gains, gain more seats,” the 26-year-old said in his hometown of Naudero late on Wednesday. “And therefore I will be looking to do that in every way possible,” said Bilawal.

“These political orphans and puppets would want us to be a dictatorship again,” he said, referring to Imran and Qadri and their protests.

“But Pakistan is over that. We are a democracy. We have had a civilian transfer of power.”

Bilawal, whose age did not allow him to contest the 2008 elections, said he would rely on Pakistan’s young population for support and make fighting poverty his central agenda.

“Sixty per cent of the population of Pakistan is young … and of course I, being 26, I think can relate to them more than any other Pakistani political leader can,” he said. “For me, serving the people … is about poverty alleviation.”

The Bhuttos have often portrayed themselves as champions of the poor in a country where feudal landlords own vast tracts of land and agricultural workers often live in deep poverty.

As well as his youth, Bilawal can draw on a name more evocative than any other in Pakistan.

Tough with India

While the young Bilawal’s remarks about the poor are consistent with the PPP’s traditional position, he appears to be far more hawkish than his party has been on the issue of Pakistan’s longstanding rivalry with India.

The PPP’s five years in power were marked by a warming in ties between the neighbours.

“The United Nations Security Council, the people of Pakistan, Pakistan as a country and the people of Kashmir all agree on what the way forward is; it’s only India that keeps making excuses and sabotaging peace,” Bilawal said.

“My generation, our generation on both sides of the border won’t put up with this,” he added, in surprisingly strong comments.

Bilawal has been an outspoken critic of the hardline Taliban movement, which threatened his party with attack during the run-up to the 2008 election.

After his mother was killed, her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, returned from self-imposed exile to successfully contest the election. He remains co-chair of the PPP along with his son.

Bilawal said the PPP was ultimately responsible for a major military operation against the Taliban launched in the lawless tribal areas in June, and said Nawaz Sharif, who was in favour of peace talks with the militants, had been reluctant to give the go-ahead.

“It only happened because of the political pressure mounted by the PPP and our fierce, vocal and brave opposition,” he said.

“The Nawaz Sharif government was reluctant and the peace process was a consensus built among the right-wing parties that dominate discourse in Pakistan. We took it upon ourselves to go against this policy of appeasement.”