Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
The assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, is a milestone event for Pakistan and the Bhutto family. As a dynamic albeit corrupt leader, her return from exile was intended to reinvigorate her party and her death did just that, in addition to causing the departure of Pervaiz Musharraf from the military, presidency and the country. Benazir’s death, however, also left the Bhutto family without any true political heir as members of her larger family were estranged from each other and her children were not old enough to enter politics.
An astute political leader, Mrs. Bhutto had clearly understood these deficiencies and, consequently, had designated her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to succeed her as the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – a party that had been founded by her father but which has since been divided into multiple factions. Mr. Zardari, a quick study, did not appoint himself as the party’s chairman but selected his son, Bilawal, to take this position. However, given that Bilawal was too young to lead anything and was, at that point, a college student, Asif appointed himself to the co-chairperson of the PPP.
As evidence of Zaradri’s astute political skills consider that Benazir Bhutto was killed on December 27, 2007, and by September 2008, the country’s prime minister – Yousuf Raza Gilani – and president – Asif Ali Zardari – were both members of the PPP. Since then, Mr. Zardari has shrewdly maintained his hold on the party and country while ensuring that Pakistan’s security and economy lay in tatters. One reason why Zardari’s opponents have not been able to outmaneuver him is because Asif is never consistent. For example, he professes to the most secular politician in the country but he signed a regulation formally establishing Sharia Law in the Malakand division in early 2009.
If there is one thing certain about Zardari its that his ultimate goal is to stay in power and make lots of money, and he will do anything to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, since 2009, Mr. Zardari has seen his authority curtailed and popularity decline and, while he remains in control of the PPP, he is too smart to not see the writing on the wall. It is for these reasons that Bilawal’s national debut on the fifth anniversary of his mother’s death is of such importance.
The timing of Bilawal’s unveiling is quite important because it gives the PPP, in general, and Mr. Zardari, in particular, some time to market the young leader to the country’s people and party workers before the 2013 elections. While Bilawal is not old enough to contest in the elections, this marketing campaign will allow him to ride his mother’s memory and generate positive attention for the PPP’s candidates. It also sets him up as a future kingmaker, political candidate and leader of the country.
The international community should not expect these developments to result in any significant changes either in terms of how the PPP works or how it will manage the country if it returns to power next year. The PPP is a generally secular institution whose leaders remain interested in generating wealth and their knowledge of Pakistan’s strategic importance continues to be coherent. They will support whoever is able to fund their goals and ambitions, and this pragmatic attitude makes their policy decisions reliably consistent and predictable.