The stage was set and the moment had arrived. It was time to introduce the next generation of Bhutto and Zardari to the world– Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Assefa. Who would have imagined that these children, who had always preferred to stay away from the glitz and paranoia of the dangerous world of politics would one day be entering it albeit, owing to circumstances neither to their liking nor of their own doing. But it was the tragic and unfortunate assassination of their beloved mother that invoked them to change course and set afoot on a dangerous path trodden with surprises and anguish. While friends of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto say she always envisaged Bilawal becoming her political heir, they agree that she would not have wanted him to have to bear such a burden so young.
In an interview in 2004, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was asked if he wanted to enter Pakistani politics. “We will see, I don’t know. I would like to help the people of Pakistan, so I will decide when I finish my studies,” he said.
Today, he stood tall being forced into a decision much earlier than he would have imagined then.
A person’s character is best judged once he is pitted against odds. Bilawal had to endure the loss of his mother when he so needed her to be around him to pamper him, to love him and to see him grow. Yet he lost it all in the flash of a second. It was at this crucial moment in his life that there emerged a leader out of him in whose voice echoed the words of his mother “democracy is the best revenge”.
All these thoughts resonated through my head and my eyes flooded with tears as I sat in the Presidency on the 18th of July 2009, listening to the magnanimous speech delivered by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s only son and the Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party. The event was attended by the parliamentarians and ticket-holders of Pakistan People’s Party, who had been awarded tickets for the elections by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto herself in 2007, along with their children and families.
This was not the first time that I had met Bilawal, Bakhtawar or Assefa, yet there was something different about Bilawal tonight. This young man standing on the podium, talking to the members of the party, formulated by his grandfather and nourished by his mother had come a long way from the libraries of Christ Church, Oxford. Today, he seemed like an embodiment of perfection, ideally suited to hold the reigns as a true heir to the legend of the party; a people’s man, a true Bhutto.
There were many who had gone to the event with doubtful minds. They wondered as to whether this young lad in his twenties, who did not even reside in this country, could be entrusted with the enormous responsibility of leading the largest political party of this country and in future, the country itself. And this is what he had to say to clear the doubts of one and all. “The Pakistan People’s Party can and will solve all challenges. As the future generation, what can we promise the people of Pakistan? We can promise them that we shall deliver what our older generation has not yet delivered.”
There was resolve, commitment, resoluteness but most importantly, there was recognition and acceptance of the fact that promises made had not entirely been fulfilled yet and it was the right of the people of Pakistan to point out the anomalies of the government in addressing the needs of the people.
This coming from the chairman of the party that is in government is a big accolade and surely, we Pakistanis are not used to such true self analysis and accountability.
On that evening, everybody present there saw Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto come to life again in Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. This young man has the potential, the capability and the courage to lead this party and this country forward. As I listened to Bilawal with tears in my eyes, I felt hope, hope that I had long forgone since the Shahadat of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. It just occurred to me sitting there that this was what Mohtarma meant once she aptly titled her last book ‘Reconciliation’. It is time to reconcile with the fact that the next generation of the Bhuttos is ready, ready to take on from where their predecessors left and when Bilawal says, “Khoon chaihay, khoon dein gay; sir chahiyay, sir dein gay, jaan chahiyay, jaan dein gay,” you know that this young man really means it because his name ‘Bilawal’ means “one without equal”.