PPP stays with Bhutto family

Islamabad, Dec 30 | Updated: Dec 31 2007, 05:07am hrs
Bilawal Bhutto, the teenaged son of slain former Premier Benazir Bhutto who was being groomed by his mother for a career in politics, was thrust into the spotlight on Sunday, to take on the troubled legacy of a family that has played a key role in Pakistani politics.

Bilawal, who turned 19 in September and uses his mothers surname, was three months old when his mother first became the Prime minister of Pakistan in 1988. He will be the third leader of the 40-year-old Pakistan Peoples Party, one of Pakistans most powerful political forces. Though he was named the chairman of the party, he will have to wait for another six years to contest an election.

He will follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the PPP in 1967 and served as Prime Minister for four years in the mid-1970s. His mother Benazir, took over the charge at the age of 26 after her father was hanged by the military regime of Gen Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.

The suave and handsome Bilawal, who is studying at Oxford--his mother and grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhuttos alma mater -- is taking an early plunge into politics following his mothers assassination on December 27. Bilawal reportedly fainted on hearing about his mothers death in Dubai and was inconsolable at his mothers funeral. He had joined his father and his sisters for an Eid break in Dubai and was to fly back to his college this week. Proud of the Bhutto legacy, Bilawal once said he had powerful role models in the family who would influence his career choices when he is older.

Bhutto, who narrowly escaped an assassination bid on October 18 in Karachi, in her will named her husband Asif Ali Zardari to lead the party, but he gave the responsibility to his son, a party official said.

Bilawal, the eldest of Bhuttos children, is described as a fitness freak and a keen sports enthusiast. He is a black belt in Taekwondo and also loves swimming, horse riding, squash and target shooting. In a rare interview to a Pakistani daily three years ago, he said he regretted that he could not play cricket because of the circumstances in which my family had been put.

Bilawal spent his childhood with his two sisters Bakhtawar, 17, and Asifa, 14, in Dubai and London after his mother went into self-imposed exile. He did his O levels from the elitist Rashid School for Boys in Dubai and served as a vice-president of the students council there. He joined Oxford soon after turning 19.

Asked about joining politics when he was 15, Bilawal said, We will see, I dont know. I would like to help the people of Pakistan, so I will decide when I finish my studies. I can either enter politics, or I can enter another career that would benefit the people, he said.

Bhutto fiercely guarded her childrens privacy and kept them away from the prying eyes of the media. But like his mother, whom he doted on, Bilawal has spoken about Pakistans problems which, he said, could be solved if there is democracy in the country.