Published — Friday 28 December 2012
Last update 28 December 2012 12:52 am
Bilawal Bhutto, the 24-year-old son of slain Pakistani politician, Benazir Bhutto, is, on the fifth anniversary of his mother’s assassination, emerging as her political heir.
Though he cannot run for the presidency until he is 25, few of the tens of thousands of supporters who gathered around the Bhutto family home in Sindh this week, doubted that the young man will lead the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and assume his mother’s political mantle.
Their fervor is the greater because there is widespread despair in the party at the lackluster leadership of Bilawal’s father, President Asif Ali Zardari, who continues to be surrounded by accusations of widespread corruption, not least when his wife was prime minister.
PPP supporters are looking to Bilawal for a new vision for both the party and a country that is facing seeming insuperable economic, security and administrative challenges. It may be that the young Oxford graduate will fulfill their hopes, but he will have to be a quite exceptional politician to do so. This is because what is wrong with Pakistan is the very political system which is pushing him forward as a leader.
The country was the result of the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, in order to give a home to Indian Muslims. East Pakistan broke away to be an independent country in 1971. The irony is that there are now more Muslims living in India than there are in Pakistan.
Moreover while India, after years of heavy-handed state control and protectionism, has in the last 20 years set itself on the path to becoming an economic superpower, Pakistan’s economy has languished. Periods of military rule have served to undermine civilian institutions, not least the judiciary. The long-standing refusal of the tribal regions — where most of the country’s oil and gas are located — to acknowledge rule from Islamabad, has since the ouster of the Taleban and Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, turned into open rebellion.
In a country where nothing seems certain, even the electricity supply, which now fails on an almost daily basis, people tend to polarize around their communities. One local academic has even argued that the concept of a single Pakistan is disintegrating. The pride with which the nation was born, is he argued, being replaced by silos of political and economic power, which fight doggedly for their own interests, while still claiming to be acting for the betterment of the country as a whole.
Pakistan’s greatest trouble is corruption, which, as a series of trials and investigations have established over the years, starts right at the top. If that is the example set by the country’s leaders and the top echelons of their parties, then the corruption filters down to every level of society. But the principle that nothing important happens without the stealing of funds or a bribe, brings with its something even worse. The normal processes of a coherent, functioning society, no longer seem to matter. Thus, coupled with jobbery, is widespread incompetence and total lack of pride in job and function.
How can a country capable of building itself nuclear missiles be incapable of providing its struggling industry with a regular supply of power? This is the political inheritance that awaits Bilawal Bhutto. To really change his country, he must break the widespread vested interests and drive out corrupt politicians, including those within his own PPP, including perhaps, even his own father.