By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS
London : Declaring he has brought “hope to a new generation of Pakistanis”, the man who could become Pakistan’s youngest ever prime minister said Tuesday he wants his country to live peacefully with India.
“I believe Pakistan should be able to live in peaceful co-existence with all its neighbours,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of slain former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto, said at a packed press conference in London.
He was asked by IANS what he thought about his country’s relations with India, as a young Pakistani leader looking beyond the coming general elections.
Although Bilawal, who was flanked by his aunt Sanam and family friends, admitted that he was inexperienced in politics and could only occupy political office at the age of 25, he put up a stout defence of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s decision to appoint him party chairman.
Facing a ‘who’s who’ of the British media – some firing rapid questions at him – the 19-year-old Oxford student flared up as he dismissed claims that the PPP was trying to maintain the Bhutto dynasty at the expense of party democracy.
Banging the table with his fist, Bhutto Zardari said, “The slogan in Pakistan is ‘how many Bhuttos can you kill? From every house a Bhutto will come’.”
He said his mother’s assassination last month had “made me more resilient.”
“I feel I really want to see democracy in Pakistan. We have lot of our best hope, but not our only hope,” he added.
Wearing a dark suit, blue, open collar shirt, and overcoat, Bhutto Zardari was surprisingly calm as he fielded some difficult questions from media veterans.
Responding to a stiff challenge by BBC television news anchor Jeremy Paxman that he had been picked like a “piece of family furniture”, Bhutto Zardari declared that his appointment was needed to unite Pakistan.
“It was a moment of crisis. Pakistan was burning. We needed to find a solution,” he replied.
Further queried about his suitability for the job of PPP leader, given that he had never lived in Pakistan, Bhutto Zardari said, “It was no my choice to be outside Pakistan” – a reference to the fact that he had been raised abroad while his mother was in political exile.
“I cannot pretend to relate in the same way as people living there, but I am fully aware of what’s happening,” he said.
Before fielding questions, Bhutto Zardari read out a brief statement in which he said he had become PPP chairman because “it was recognised at the moment of crisis the party needed a close association with my mother through the blood line.
“Also it was important to give hope to the new generation of Pakistanis who are looking just to these elections but beyond.
“Politics is also in my blood. And although I admit that my experience to date is limited, I intend to learn.”
“To those of you who consider it odd that a 19-year old should assume such a position… my response is as follows: my position was based on the collective will of the party, unanimously endorsed by 50 to 60 members of our Central Executive Committee” representing all the provinces of Pakistan.
He said there was a precedent when his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed and his grandmother Nusrat Bhutto became chairperson.
“As you know, my mother then assumed the role.”
He said he believed that his mother would be alive today had she been provided with adequate protection by the Pakistan government, but would not comment on “who we believe is responsible,” as the matter was under investigation.
Bhutto Zardari appreciated British help with the probe but said he would still like a United Nations-sponsored investigation.
“We do not believe that an investigation which is under the authority of the Pakistani government has the necessary transparency. Already so much forensic evidence has been destroyed.”
Finally, the young man made a strong plea to be spared the media glare so that he can pursue his studies as a normal student.
“I’m perfectly prepared to schedule press conferences such as this, but when I am at Oxford, I hope that I can be left alone,” he requested.