Speech by Bhutto's son fuels talk of political career

5th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The son of Benazir Bhutto and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan is expected to make his first speech Saturday since leaving university in Britain, fuelling talk he is stepping up his political career.

Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, 21, is heir apparent to a dynasty whose most famous figure was his mother, Pakistan's former prime minister and the world's first Muslim female premier, who was assassinated in 2007.

His grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founded the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1967 and became Pakistan's president before being overthrown in a military coup and hanged in 1979.

Bhutto was studying at Oxford University when his mother was killed and, at the time, those close to him said he should be left to finish his education before moving into politics in earnest.

But now he has finished his history degree at Christ Church, seen as one of the most aristocratic of Oxford's colleges, speculation is growing about what steps he will now take towards his political destiny.

Bhutto, who is already chairman of the PPP, is expected to speak before several thousand of its supporters at an event in Birmingham, central England, alongside his father who is visiting Britain.

The PPP has played down its significance, perhaps wary of criticism Zardari is facing that he should return to Pakistan in the wake of catastrophic floods which have killed up to 1,500 people and affected some four million.

"Bilawal will be there... most likely I think he will make a speech," said Waheed Rasab, the PPP's coordinator in Britain.

"The president is going to address the community because since the assassination of Ms Bhutto, every time he's been to London he's only seen a handful of people and there was a demand from the community".

But Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan expert at London international affairs think-tank Chatham House, said the son's appearance was likely to be seen as an important event by PPP supporters.

She added that Zardari, long plagued by corruption allegations, was likely to "attempt to really embed Bilawal firmly within the Bhutto legacy" as well as using the event to boost his own standing, which is flagging in Pakistan.

"It's fair to assume that he's hoping very much by this gesture... to signal that in fact it's all change and not just for the better but for the cleaner," she told AFP.

Other commentators suggest that the event will provide an opportunity for the PPP to raise funds from supporters based in Britain.

Bhutto, whose first name means "one without equal", could soon be heading back to the country of his illustrious ancestors, despite having spent most of his life outside Pakistan.

If he does, he will be closer to fulfilling the role for which he has seemed destined since the day he was born.

His mother wrote in her autobiography that, after she gave birth to him, there was celebratory gunfire, drumming and cries of "Jiye Bhutto" ("Long Live Bhutto") outside the hospital.

"The most celebrated and politically controversial baby in the history of Pakistan had been born," she added.

© 2010 AFP

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