Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (Photo by RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP via Getty Images)
THE SCION of Pakistan’s most influential political dynasty was appointed foreign minister on Wednesday (27), the latest step up a ladder likely to take Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to the top of the country’s leadership.
Aged 33, Bhutto becomes one of the world’s youngest foreign ministers but inherits a diplomatic bag of issues that started well before he was born – including relations with arch-rival India.
Bhutto was sworn in two weeks after he helped lead an alliance that toppled Imran Khan and saw Shehbaz Sharif become prime minister.
His first foreign mission in the role will be accompanying Sharif on Thursday (28) to Saudi Arabia, a key trade partner and regular source of relief for Pakistan’s struggling economy.
Bhutto is the son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and ex-president Asif Ali Zardari, as well as the grandson of another former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
His grandfather also served as the foreign minister in the mid-1960s and was the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that Bhutto now leads.
He became party leader aged just 19, while a student at Oxford University, following his mother’s assassination in 2007.
She, in turn, had taken over the party’s stewardship from her mother Nusrat, who became chairwoman following the execution of her husband Zulfikar in 1979 under military dictator Zia-ul-Haq.
The new foreign minister is considered a progressive, in his mother’s image, and has frequently spoken out on the rights of women and minorities.
With more than half of Pakistan’s population aged 22 or below, Bhutto’s social media savvy is also a hit with the young, although he is frequently mocked for a poor command of Urdu, the national language.
Political commentators have mixed opinions on Bhutto’s abilities – or how long he can maintain good relations with Sharif, of the rival Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party.
“I believe he is an un-tested missile,” analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi said.
“It is too early for a young MP like Bilawal Bhutto… and it will be difficult for him to handle issues Pakistan faces, with serious challenges on external fronts.”
Fellow analyst Farzana Bari disagreed.
“I think Bilawal is intelligent enough to hold the fort,” she said, adding he was “more progressive” than the leaders of other political parties.