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Chairmanship of the Pakistan People's Party came to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as part of his inheritance, and his assumption of a more active role in his party's affairs was accordingly signalled with a heavy overhang of symbolism. The move came on the fifth death anniversary of his mother, Benazir Bhutto, in Garhi Khuda Baksh in Sindh, where she and her father, Zulfikar, are buried, and the 24-year-old iterated his claim to invoking their name. That his active political career has thus been launched comes as no surprise, neither is it difficult to discern the reasons for his induction. Elections to the National Assembly are due in 2013 and while he will be too young to contest, his leadership of the PPP campaign is obviously aimed at reviving the Bhutto charisma that held such sway in Pakistan, especially in Sindh.
Whether the strategy will be effective is anybody's guess, but Bilawal's induction this week is a reminder of the complexities of Pakistan's political fray. Of course, it highlights the familial/feudal lines of authority that run through its political parties. It is, importantly, also an utterance of the regional sentiments that run through Pakistan's politics. The PPP calculation would be to consolidate its hold on Sindh at a time when its incumbency is being challenged in a more fragmented fray, with the expectation that Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League's formidable sway in Punjab could be dented by Imran Khan. Moreover, Bilawal's father, Asif Ali Zardari, never quite had the Bhutto charisma and the PPP government's running confrontation with the judiciary over cases against him has left him a yet more diminished figure. Bilawal's public profile would be aimed at burnishing the PPP's image with an impression of newness and change.
It is a tough ask, and given Sharif's record in political mobilisation, the PPP would need to offer a more forward-looking agenda than simply nostalgia for Bhutto rule.
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