By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
I was not surprised a bit when I heard the news that PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would be leading party’s delegation to the highly prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Had it been some one else it would have been rather disappointing since neither the government nor the PPP have any leader of his calibre to breath fresh air in a suffocating atmosphere of global warming, toxaemia, terrorism, extremism, intolerance and an iniquitous economic system making the rich richer and poor poorer. His heart warming performance at the World Economic Forum (WEF) with global icons has made the nation proud for having discovered an exceptional leader who stood tall among the tallest
It is a fact that Bilawal Bhutto had emerged even before his birth as a serious threat for the dictator General Ziaul Haq and subsequently the forces of status quo. His elevation as the leader of the country’s largest Federalist Party-the PPP-after the cold bloodied murder of his mother -martyred Benazir Bhutto-on December 27, 2007-made life of the political opponents sleepless. And as such he has been a constant target of orchestrated character assassination as much too his being young and inexperienced. Chip of the old block that Bilawal is, he has achieved much success in overcoming his shortcoming as a public speaker in Urdu and the advantage that he has over English language-leaves his adversaries very little option to flak him with. Time and again Bilawal has been showing to his critics that pedigree does matter. His tall and handsome stature, the natural Bhutto flare and little bit of flamboyance in him will soon make him the master of public oratory spell binding both his supporters and critics.
I had not known that he had gone to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum and it was a pleasant surprise to read independent comments and tweets of the people and experts who heard him hold the fort for Pakistan most gallantly and forthrightly. Being uncle to him, my views of him would sound biased to his critics. However, it is an undeniable fact rare in history when the destiny of an unborn child holds the future of a nation in its celestial trajectory. I can say this without fear of contradiction that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was earmarked by nature-or in Shakespeare’s words-‘born to be great’. He was assigned by destiny to play a role larger than life assuring him a unique niche in the hall of fame. Unfortunately, not many have thought of the fact that here was a child who the divinity had carved a role in politics and affairs of the state to play as the leader of the nation much before he was born. In this context I would like to emphasize the role stars play in determining the future course in a nation or individual’s life. People who are associated with Pakistani politics would recall certain turn of events preceding general elections in November 1988. Among other happenings, one can co-relate it all to 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 Prime Minister Junejo without consulting President Ziaul Haq causing most serious divide in his constituency forcing him to dismiss the Prime Minister that he had himself chosen that finally led to the long knife of the generals resulting in the mysterious crash of C-130 on August 17, 1988.
General Ziaul Haq 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 no one and that – as Roman philosopher Cicero said of such times as of before his death – that certain signs precede ominous events – instead of calling it day he tried to buy abortively extension by sacrificing black goats every week. I remember the group interview that he gave us two months before his divine 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 being a wily usurper and sacred of Bhutto’s landslide electoral victory waiting for her whenever polls were held, as such, he designed the polls to be held at a time when she is pregnant and not in a position to campaign. And as the incredible story goes, General Zia assigned ISI, MI and IB to find out when she was due for delivery to fix a date for elections just at that time. General Zia’s decision about date of election was so aimed that her pregnancy could restrict her hectic movement precisely with the intention of making her campaign ineffective. Much to the machinations and planning by ISI apparatus, Bilawal was born earlier and the plans of deep state were thwarted.
When I look back I feel amused to recall that how poorly our intelligence agencies perform. 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 ‘not’ a graduate that made General Musharraf to restrict membership of parliament to only people qualified as graduate-thus assured no entry to Bibi on the basis of his information.
Many of Bilawal’s narrow-minded critics continue to be uncharitable in assessment of the enormous potential he has lately shown following his very pragmatic and objectively loaded sense of direction in December last at the time of the 50th foundation anniversary of the party. As he rightly said recently in his Davos speech and India Today interview that Pakistan needs a progressive voice to eliminate politics of hate and mudslinging by major political parties within the country and that PPP has always endorsed a progressive political framework, which he termed as ‘the way forward.’ “PPP has always been a progressive party in Pakistan. That’s the way forward. That’s the kind of politician I want to be.” Bilawal also said that his mother’s mission to serve the people of the motivated him to choose politics. “My mother was assassinated for opposing extremists. I did not choose a life in politics. It chose me.” Indeed, 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. His assertion 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.”
Determined like his grand father ZAB and mother his “dearest daughter”, he proved in his India Today interview that his political will was unwavering when standing by Pakistan’s interests. His critics-knowing the fact his two generations have been victims of the Establishment, were disappointed to hear him speak in defence of Pakistan army and the generals. Interviewer Rahul Kanwal could not provoke him into taking on an anti-army posture, his response was of strong support to the Pakistan Army, expressing the national unity when facing the hostile adversaries.
His response to a terse question on Pakistan’s current relationship with Washington-was rather statesmanlike and diplomatic. He did not walk into a trap to make him sound hostile to a long standing friendship now under pressure due to new leadership. His contempt for both current leaders in Washington or Delhi for their retrogressive politics was timely while he made it clear that if India wanted peace with Pakistan, it shall have to take well-meaning steps.
It is clear that Bilawal is not the continuation of the politics of status quo like PML-N and PTI leadership. Whenever there is a grim reality of a situation, or an occasion that demands a forthright stand against retrogressive forces and those representing status quo – Bilawal has not hesitated in taking the bulls by the horn. He has the dare of his mother and her dauntless determination too, to face the extremists and to take though decisions when challenges are onerous. The emergence of Benazir Bhutto’s son as her political heir – is indeed the most important development in politics of Pakistan that will have far reaching impact on and usher in seminal changes of far-reaching consequences.
His heart warming performance at the Davos’ World Economic Forum with global icons has made the nation proud for having discovered an exceptional leader who stood tall among the tallest. Though a singular performance appreciated by all and sundry, has placed him in the company of those few who would travel far to pastures new pushing forward their masses in pursuit of general weal. Bilawal is definitely a new star on Pakistan’s horizon that Bhutto supporters and PPP voters had been anxiously waiting for. Each and every line of his speech got full throated endorsement from a roaring crowd in the Golden Anniversary public meeting in Islamabad and plaudits in Davos – are no doubt reminder of the old glorious days of PPP when SZAB and martyred Bibi would breath fire into crowds with their magnificent populist oratory. No doubts times have changed and there are growing security constraints, Bilawal shall have to shed that status quo tag and must expand his systematic attempt to connect with the voters. Like SZAB and SMBB, he should venture into populist activities like organising and participating in sporting activities or be seen in dhabas having meal with the plebs, unannounced appearances with the tillers of the soil in villages, in local markets interacting with the local public like Bhutto Sahib and Bibi often did. He should prefer to be seen with younger elements rather than be surrounded by political ruins.
(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)