Monday, August 16, 2010 – It is a strange twist of nature that President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also Co-Chairperson of the PPP, could not succeed to formally launch his Oxford-Graduate son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in active politics among a much-hyped Birmingham gathering of Party supporters on August 7, 2010. It was all set, the speeches to be delivered by Mr Zardari, Bilawal and local office-bearers of the Party were already given finishing touches and statements of anticipated enthusiastic welcome by the PPP workers both in the UK and Pakistan were ready. According to my information, since 2nd of August when President Asif Ali Zardari left for Paris and till the day he had a handshake with President Sarkozi, the Bilawal launching programme was intact. That was why the young and exuberant Bilawal and Asifa who, to me, appears to be Benazir in the making, were present at the handshake and President Sarkozi warmly shook hands with them also. They too were seated at the same dining table. According to the script, conceived and written at the Presidency in Islamabad, this was the first act of the grand Birmingham show.
But they say the nature has its own plans. The issue of uncalled-for remarks by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, rightly generated a lot of heat in Pakistan and evoked intense criticism and in fact condemnation of President Zardari’s odyssey to the United Kingdom at a time when the entire country was submerged under flash floods. The scenario suddenly changed. Demonstrations by the UK-born Pakistanis outside 10-Downing Street carrying placards of “Go back Zardari” and “Do you approve Pakistan-bashing by Cameron” further polluted the environment to such an extent that the President had to be whisked away from the backdoor to his five star hotel room in London. Subsequently Mr Zardari was put on the defensive and he had to play on the back foot. What added to the severity of the situation was that even British media too started criticizing the President, what, I would say, was in extremely bad taste. One could say that the whole atmosphere became hostile to such an extent that it became difficult for the organizers to fill the big hall of the Birmingham hotel as they were unable to arrange one thousand audience. They were desperate to arrange maximum number of audience but some of the PPP jiyalas too thought it appropriate in a highly hostile environment not to listen to the speech of Head of State who is also the Co-Chairman of their Party.
The worst was yet to come and it happened when Mr Zardari was making his speech. Sardar Mohammad Shamim Khan, 60, one of the invitees threw his shoes towards the podium vitiating the whole environment and it was like rubbing salt into the wound. Later, an unrepentant Sardar from Coventry, West Midlands said he could feel the anger brewing up inside him as Zardari talked about the floods in Pakistan. If such were the sentiments of a Pakistani, living in a foreign land, one could judge the reaction back in Pakistan where about 20 million people were confronting the actual miseries. Media in the UK and Pakistan described the event as joining the “Bush’s shoe club”. I may mention that I received a few e-mails and SMSs describing the incident as “Joota (shoe) Khappay”.
I feel very sorry for the handsome and exuberant Bilawal who gives resemblance of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and emerges taller in size than his father that he could not be formally launched into politics and the circumstances forced him to come out with the statement that he wanted to complete his study of Law, following the footprints of his maternal grandfather.
The prime object of my comments is to suggest that if and when Mr Bilawal is to be formally launched then how it should be done. I believe my suggestion could be helpful to him and his Party and it would be in the interest of Pakistan as well.
At the outset, I may recall how the PPP itself was launched. Without going into details, I would say late Z.A.Bhutto after meticulous ground and paperwork done by himself and close aides like J.A. Rahim, Dr Mubashir Hassan, late Makhdoom Talibul Maula and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, etc drafted a fascinating manifesto with Roti, Kapra aur Makan slogan and what was more important was that the Party was launched from Takht Lahore and not even from Larkana, not to speak of foreign land like London. This was because late Z.A. Bhutto was indeed a political genius who fully understood that Lahore was not just the capital of the largest Province of Pakistan but historically speaking it had always spearheaded the political movements and played a decisive role in their successful culmination.
The historic Pakistan Resolution on 23rd March, 1940 at Minto Park (now Iqbal Park) too was adopted in Lahore. Even BB landed in Lahore to a historic welcome when she returned to Pakistan from exile in l986 as she knew the importance of Lahore in the national politics.
Youthful Bilawal’s induction in active politics in Birmingham would have injured the sensitivities of his supporters and the general public in Pakistan because he would be doing politics in Pakistan and not in the Cameron’s United Kingdom. It is strange that the leader meant for Pakistan was planned to be launched abroad and that too in a country where Pakistan was humiliated. It would have been an extremely bad beginning and a lifelong stigma for Bilawal had he started his active political career from Birmingham as per the plans of some short-sighted people in the Presidency. Therefore, a word of advice for his well-wishers – whenever he is launched into active politics, this should be done from Lahore.
Secondly, the kids of Aisf Ali Zardari and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, have most of the time remained in foreign lands and studied there. They should first be groomed in Pakistan through acclimatizing them with Pakistani culture, learning the way politics is done and how to speak the language of the people and what are their day to day and long-term problems, as mere attiring of Pakistani dresses, Ajrak and cap would not be enough. So Bilawal Bhutto Zardari should make a beginning from the grass roots level and get familiarized with the psyche of the masses and this is what will make him a genuine and respectable leader of the PPP.
To substantiate my point of view, I would draw the attention of the PPP leadership to the neighbouring country where there is similar political dynasty as in Pakistan. The Congress did not elevate Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister and his Italian-born mother is showing remarkable patience though there is no hurdle in the way as such. Rahul and his mother Sonia led theelection campaigns twice and succeeded. In fact, Rahul has emerged as a driving force in Congress and he is still resisting to become even a Minister and is only active in strengthening his Party and building personal rapport with State leadership and the people at large across the country.
So, for Bilawal, there was an opportunity to show his allegiance to 180 million people of Pakistan who are grieved and in fact traumatized with the devastating rains and floods, and he as a budding leader could have dashed to Pakistan and joined them by going to all the affected places starting from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Punjab and down to Sindh and Balochistan assuring them relief as his Party is in coalition in the four Provinces and running the Federal Government. At the same time had he launched the campaign for collection of donations while visiting the affected areas, one can say that people would have responded to his appeal because they still have sympathies with him over the martyrdom of his mother and that would have in a way served as an indirect launching of the young leader.
Why I insist that all our leaders must have their stakes only in Pakistan because that will give the country a good image. In the past, important political developments concerning the future of the country were deliberated by politicians abroad like the “London Plan” and “Dubai Parleys”. For Pakistani leaders Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar should be the centres of gravity and not London, New York, Paris or Dubai. Therefore, I strongly feel that all issues relating to Pakistan inter alia doing politics and formation of alliances, etc should be decided on Pakistani soil because I, like other Pakistanis, feel humiliated when our leaders hold important political meetings abroad criticizing the sitting governments and exposing the corrupt practices, thus bringing a bad name to the country. Certainly the days of British Raj are over and now we are a nation of 180 million and it is advisable that we should manage all our affairs within the country and that would factually reflect the real Pakistaniat. We are now a sovereign nation and should behave as such.