Benazir Bhutto’s 19-year-old son Bilawal will be thrust into a dangerous spotlight today as Pakistan’s most powerful political dynasty prepares to pass the baton to the next generation, according to a report in the Sunday Times of London.
Bilawal, a first-year undergraduate at Oxford University, is the heir to a blood-soaked legacy. He lost his mother to an assassin on Thursday; his uncles both died in suspicious circumstances; and his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in 1979 after being deposed from power.
Last night, Britain’s foreign office confirmed that Benazir Bhutto met David Miliband, the foreign secretary, shortly before she returned to Pakistan from exile in October and warned him of a plot against her life. Bhutto and Miliband had spoken regularly on the telephone since that meeting and her concerns about her safety were passed on to the Pakistani authorities.
At 3 p.m. Pakistan time, Bilawal will read out his dead mother’s political testament to leaders of the Pakistan People’s party (PPP), which his grandfather founded and the family has always controlled.
“They have to show his face to reassure the party that there will be another Bhutto leader in the future,” a diplomat said.
Bilawal is expected to play a leading role in the campaign for elections, still scheduled for January 8 despite the riots that have followed the assassination. But he will return to his studies at Christ Church early next year. Under Pakistani law, parliamentary candidates must be at least 25 years old.
Benazir Bhutto wanted Bilawal to complete his education before becoming involved in politics. Although she would have liked him to lead the party, she did not want him to feel compelled to do so or to make the kind of sacrifices that she had to make when her father was executed.
Her widowed husband, Asif Ali Zardari, will make a bid today to lead the PPP in order to keep power firmly in the hands of the Bhutto family and to ensure that Bilawal can eventually inherit his mother’s political mantle.
Party leaders grieving for her began discussing the succession last night. The talks took place in Bhutto’s ancestral home at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, where she was buried on Friday in the mausoleum that she built for her late father.
Early this morning 10 villagers were keeping vigil by her grave, reciting the Koran. There were two fresh wreaths from the new army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.
The prospect of Zardari returning to frontline politics has horrified several members of the PPP central executive, who blame him for embroiling Bhutto’s two short-lived governments in corruption allegations.
Zardari became known as Mr. Ten Per Cent because of widespread allegations that he received kickbacks on government contracts.
Many in the party would prefer to see the PPP taken over by Makhdoom Amin Fahim, head of another feudal family, who ran the party while Bhutto was in exile.