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The Bhutto-Zardari Kids Go Public

Bilawal and his younger siblings were publicly unveiled in Multan this July. Each gave a speech that was in English save for some greetings and slogans in Urdu. The speeches were very hollow. The kids spoke on working for the poor, but failed to articulate any pro-poor policies. Asifa spoke of her hope to be able to match her late mother’s achievements, but never mentioned what exactly her mother achieved. She looked a bit uncomfortable with the random jiyalas yelling slogans in her name. I don’t blame her. But it’s clear these kids, whose formative years were not spent in Pakistan, are really Dubaiwallas.

I found a few things interesting.

One, it appears that Bilawal is attempting to imitate his grandfather’s style of speech in English. He’s off to a good start, but the English language’s political utility is really limited in Pakistan today.

Two, after Bilawal raises his voice, the camera pans to Asif Zardari, who has an obvious smirk on his face. The same thing occurred during Bilawal’s infamous scream speech, in which he proved Zardari’s statement that “Bhuttoism begins where logic ends.”

Three, it appears that Jehangir Badr might be their manny (male nanny)/political tutor.

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The Birth Pangs of Inherited Democracy

The head of Pakistan’s largest political party is on summer vacation from college.

Here’s a video excerpt. The best moment begins at 1 minute 10 seconds, when Bilawal Bhutto Zardari screams his head off.

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Another Warning from the Grave

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Bilawal and Asif Zardari to Co-Chair the PPP

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari read the will of his mother, Benazir Bhutto, earlier today in Pakistan.  It designated his father, Asif Zardari, as chairman of the party, who then reportedly declined the position, offering it to Bilawal.  They will co-chair the party. 

Sherry Rehman, a leading PPP figure, has been on the record stating that Bilawal will return to Oxford to continue his studies.  Asif Zardari will run the party on a day-to-day basis, while Bilawal will nominally chair the party till he is completely ready to hold the reigns.  Yusaf Raza Gilani, PPP senior vice chairman, said that Zardari will be the final decision maker in Bilawal’s absence. 

As I have written earlier, Bilawal is the best bet to continue the Bhutto name.  But as a 19 year old unable to speak Urdu and raised for much of his life out of the country, he’s thoroughly unprepared to lead the largest political party in a 160 million person country.  At the same age, his mother sat as an observer in her father’s negotiations with Indira Gandhi at Simla.  Bilawal’s had no such grooming.

The major development has been the sidelining of Amin Fahim.  Does he remain as the party’s vice chair?  Will he continue as a Bhutto loyalist, in spite of having a teenager selected over him as party leader?  He will be the party’s candidate for prime minister.  Zardari hasn’t registered for the elections.  Bilawal is ineligible to contest.  Fahim is a PM candidate by default.  He could very well play the role of Turkey’s Abdullah Gul, holding the PM spot till Asif Zardari or Bilawal are ready (if ever).

And what of Asif Zardari?  Will his control over the PPP last long?  Does he have the energy and the party support?  Will he serve as a placeholder for Bilawal — or will he reign over the party’s fragmentation?  Remember, Benazir faced significant opposition during her rise to the party’s helm — and from non-family members as well.  Her consolidation of power was indelicate, to say the least. Let’s see if party stalwarts remain loyal to Zardari, or whether they’ll slowly push him back to Dubai.

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After Bhutto: Who Will Lead the Pakistan People’s Party?

The murder of Benazir Bhutto has created a leadership vacuum within the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The populist, center-left party gained patrimonial colors after the execution of its founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1979.

Party leadership passed on to his wife, Nusrat. However, their daughter, Benazir, would soon rise to center stage, eclipsing–quite aggressively–her mother and brothers. Benazir was effectively at the party’s helm for the past two and a half decades, becoming at some point its chairperson for life. The party has no internal elections and Bhutto’s competitors were shut out.

Filling her shoes will be no easy task. Not only did Bhutto wield an almost absolute command over the People’s Party, but her persona–very much tied to her father’s–made many willing, if not desiring, to accept her complete stewardship.

To top it off, Bhutto has been lionized since her passing. News anchors on Pakistan’s private channels now refer to her as Shaheed Benazir Bhutto; she is now a martyr. Within hours of her passing, the news channels ceased to use the word ‘death’ and instead term her passing as shahadat, or martyrdom.

No potential successor shares the unique set of characteristics as Bhutto: the ‘royal’ name; popular appeal in Pakistan; political instinct; and deep contacts and friendships with leaders and influencers in the West. Most likely, Bhutto’s void will be filled by multiple individuals. The probable candidates are listed below in order of importance.

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Amin Fahim
As the vice chairman of the PPP, Amin Fahim is best positioned to assume leadership of the party. Fahim led the party in the National Assembly and was its presidential candidate in the faux polls held in October.

He is a feudal figure from Bhutto’s home province and political base of Sindh. Fahim has considerable name recognition nationally, but does not have the Bhutto name and the star power associated with it. His international connections are not strong, so he lacks Bhutto’s capacity to leverage an extensive network of foreign friends and supporters in order to challenge the U.S.-backed Musharraf.

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Asif Zardari
Most eyes are naturally focusing on Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower and closest adult relative with a political background. But Zardari is not a Bhutto; he did not marry “into” the family. His influence comes from two sources: one, like Bhutto and Fahim, he comes from an influential Sindhi feudal family; two, he was married to the daughter of Pakistan’s most popular politician post-Jinnah.

But Zardari is not viewed as the inheritor of the Bhutto mantle. And so it is highly likely that his political status will recede with the murder of his wife.

Zardari is a stained political figure. The PPP has, in recent years, sought to distance itself from him, who garnered the moniker “Mr. 10 Percent” as a result of his prolific corruption.

At best, he will play the role of a figurehead in a post-Bhutto PPP. Not only is Zardari hampered by negative perceptions and the lack of a claim to the Bhutto name, he is also in poor physical health. And it’s also unclear as to whether he is emotionally prepared to play politics; Zardari has been extremely distraught in multiple appearances on national television since yesterday. He also has three teenage children to raise.

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Aitzaz Ahsan
As a leading figure in the lawyers’ movement, Aitzaz Ahsan’s popularity–particularly with the middle and upper-middle class–has risen considerably this year. As a result, his relations with Benazir Bhutto cooled considerably; she was not happy, to say the least, with his commitment to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the judiciary’s cause.

Ahsan withdrew his nomination papers from the January elections; it’s unclear as to whether he had Bhutto’s endorsement, though it’s likely it was done against her will. His commitment to the judicial cause, while earning Bhutto’s anger, also gained points with the Pakistani public. Ahsan is seen as one of the few viable politicians who refused to consent to Musharraf’s subversion of the constitution. And so he can serve as a vehicle for restoring the public trust in the People’s Party as a popular, democratic front.

Unlike Bhutto, Ahsan is Punjabi, not Sindhi and so it’s difficult to see him alone holding up Bhutto’s popular base in Sindh. He could, to some extent, help propel the People’s Party in Punjab, but that would put the party on a more agitational course with not only the PML-Q, but also the PML-N — and it’s unclear as to whether the party wants to tussle with the latter.

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Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
As Benazir Bhutto’s eldest child, Bilawal’s entry into politics would precede that of his younger sisters (aged 16 and 14 respectively), if he choses to enter this dangerous field. But he’s only 19 and barely speaks Urdu. Bilawal just began his studies at Oxford, after living in Dubai for eight years–almost half his life. While Benazir spent her adolescence and early adulthood as her father’s political apprentice–even accompanying him to the Simla negotiations with Indira Gandhi–Bilawal has had no similar training. Bilawal’s political career will begin, if ever, gradually and in a highly managed fashion

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Farhatullah Babar
A long-time Bhutto loyalist and spokesperson, Babar will continue in his media relations capacity and providing counsel to the remainder of the party’s senior brass. He did not register for the January national and provincial elections and resigned from the Senate in 2006. If he returns to electoral politics, it’s more likely he’ll re-enter that body.

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Shah Mehmood Qureshi
As head of the PPP in Punjab, Qureshi will continue to shape the party’s operations in the country’s largest province. A feudal and Cambridge graduate, he frequently comes on political talk shows on behalf of the party. Qureshi could increasingly become a power broker at the national level.

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Sherry Rehman
A graduate of Smith College, Sherry Rehman came from a similar cultural and ideological background as Benazir Bhutto. While she can help continue the party’s media campaign in both Pakistan and the West, odds are she will do little more.

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Fatima Bhutto
A 25-year old Columbia graduate and daughter of Benazir’s slain brother, Fatima is perhaps the ultimate wild card in the post-Benazir PPP. Relations between she and her aunt were immensely hostile. Fatima accused Benazir of being behind the assassination of her father, Murtaza Bhutto–one of Benazir’s younger brothers. Fatima has been an active columnist and civil society advocate in Karachi. She has the name, the brain, and the brawns to play politics. In a potential step toward rapproachment with other Bhuttos and the Zardaris, she and her Lebanese stepmother, Ghinwa Bhutto–who runs her own PPP faction–attended Benazir’s funeral. That’s, however, a long way from mending ties with her late aunt’s inner circle. Though Fatima has been reluctant to assume any status seen as hereditary, she could come to see some utility in national politics. Will she and her stepmother rejoin Benazir’s PPP, or will they continue to remain separate, and even push for defections toward their camp? It’s all very much in the air.

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Other Influentials: Raza Gilani; Jehangir Bader; Raza Rabbani; Babar Awan; Qaim Ali Shah; Enver Baig

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Things Fall Apart

Benazir Bhutto recently blamed Pakistan’s intelligence services for the fractures emerging in her party’s elite. The former prime minister is highly concerned with cohesiveness of the PPP, making party members take loyalty oaths on the Qur’an. Though the intelligence services have previously and will continue to cause defections from her party, Bhutto alone bears responsibility for the PPP’s current internal challenges.

In late November, Masood Sharif Khattak–head of the intelligence bureau under Bhutto and PPP member for over 20 years–resigned from the party, possibly due to objections over Bhutto’s hardline stance against the insurgents in northwest Pakistan (he is a Pathan) and her dealings with Pervez Musharraf.

Earlier this month, Naseerullah Babar–Bhutto’s long-time national security adviser–rejected offers for a PPP ticket in the upcoming elections, citing his opposition to her talks with Pervez Musharraf.

Last week, Aitzaz Ahsan withdrew his nomination papers after Bhutto rejected his proposal that election candidates take an oath that they will earnestly work for the restoration of the pre-November 3rd judiciary when the new parliament convenes. She said that Ahsan’s proposal– a reasonable compromise that permitted both electoral participation and commitment to the pro-judiciary cause–was his “personal point of view and the PPP has nothing to do with it.” After Ahsan’s withdrawal, Bhutto stated that he must decide whether he’s with the PPP or the chief justice. On Friday, she also stated that the pre-November 3rd judiciary was not independent. As I’ve written earlier, Bhutto never had much fondness for Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues. In Dubai, prior to her return to Pakistan, Bhutto accused the court of a historic bias in favor of Punjabis. [Video]

This week, Naheed Khan–one of Bhutto’s closest friends and political allies–also withdrew her nomination papers, albeit for more personal reasons. Khan opposes Bhutto’s proximity to Husain Haqqani, the architect of her U.S. lobbying campaign, and offering of an election ticket to his current wife. Haqqani was previously married to Khan’s sister. While Haqqani is currently a professor at Boston University and a fellow at the neo-conservative Hudson Institute, there are reports Bhutto could offer him a Senate seat when one becomes available. Soap opera drama aside, Nahid Khan’s withdrawal is significant as she had previously been the medium by which people communicate to Bhutto. However, it should be noted that she remains as Bhutto’s political secretary.

What does this all mean? The PPP isn’t necessarily in a state of crisis, but it could be if Bhutto & Company fail to shape up. Rather than blaming the intelligence services for causing splits in her party, these particular developments are the product of Bhutto’s authoritarian hold over the PPP.

Bhutto needs to improve her capacity to channel differences of opinion and multiple dominant personalities within the party into a reasonable mean. Over the course of more than a decade, Bhutto has failed to demonstrate much of an ability to do so; recall how she pushed out her mother and late brother out of the party. The challenges the PPP faces today is the result of her overpersonalization of the party’s decision-making structure and an overaggressive lobbying campaign in the U.S.

Gone is the era in which one could make statements in Washington and not have them reach Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Bhutto’s statements in Washington regarding giving the IAEA access to A.Q. Khan, for example, made their way to Pakistan instantaneously. Farhatullah Babar, a senior PPP leader and Bhutto loyalist, was compelled to deny that Bhutto had made the comments attributed to her, despite the video recording. The discord between her discourse in the West and in Pakistan has been telling.

Rather than asking Aitzaz Ahsan whether he’s loyal to the PPP or Chief Justice Chaudhry, she should ask herself what is the People’s Party to begin with? Is she the chairperson of the People’s Party or, effectively, the Bhutto’s Party? And has she, in her quest for another premiership, pulled the party too far from its populist, anti-military rule roots?

Instead of pointing fingers elsewhere, now is the time for introspection for Bhutto, for by the time her son Bilawal finishes his studies at Oxford and learns a modicum of Urdu, Pakistan’s first mass political party might be in tatters.

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Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

For Media and Consulting Inquiries:
E-mail // Tel: +1(202) 713-5897

On Twitter:
@PakistanPolicy

On the Radio:
Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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