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Pakistan’s Bhutto-Zardari siblings can show India’s dynasts how to fight the good fight

Like Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, the Bhutto-Zardari siblings have been ghettoised by their parents’ politics. But unlike the Gandhis, they are also a symbol of hope for their people.

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Rahul Gandhi needn’t take the trouble to read up his Machiavelli, even if it were to do him a world of good, or Priyanka Gandhi take inspiration from elsewhere – there’s a living, breathing example of a brother-sister duo in politics, next door in Pakistan, both of whom are determined to fight the good fight, come what may.

The Bhatta-Parsaul outing was such a long time ago. And as hundreds of farmers protested at Delhi’s borders, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was on a holiday in Goa, with his mother Sonia. But back in Pakistan, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari knew that since her brother and chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto, had been temporarily felled by Covid-19, she couldn’t let the side down at the big rally of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in Multan on 30 November.

The fledgling PDM — a conglomeration of opposition parties that ranged from the Centre-Right Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to the Right-wing Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam led by Fazlur Rehman to M.J. Dawar’s Pashtun Tahafuz Movement to the Centre-Left Pakistan Peoples Party – was returning to Pakistan’s Punjab after holding jalsas or rallies across the country over the past several weeks.

This was an important show of strength. Permission had been withdrawn by the Imran Khan government. Bilawal, 32, had taunted the prime minister, saying there weren’t enough jails to hold the workers of the PPP. Democracy and ‘izzat’, that unbeatable combination of a not-so-recently awakened people, reared its head. Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari’s youngest child stepped in.

Also read: Does Imran Khan’s Gilgit-Baltistan vow mean Pakistan has accepted India’s Article 370 move?

Next-door dynasts don’t have it easy either

She sounded so much like her mother. Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari’s speech was accented, from long years of living abroad; like Bilawal’s, it was full of elongated vowels, as if she were participating in a mass keening, instead of addressing a few hundred thousand people.

But Aseefa seemed to understand that it wasn’t her that stood in front of the crowd, but a fragile and nascent symbol of hope in a country that fast seemed to be losing its moorings.

Inko lagta hai, saathiyon, ki hum giraftariyon se dar jayenge, toh yeh inki bhool hai,” young Aseefa said. (If the government believes that we will be frightened because they are arresting us, then they are mistaken.)

Aseefa was only 14 when her mother Benazir was assassinated in 2007 – today, she’s 27. Bilawal was 19, today he’s 32. They both stand accused of perpetuating the dynastic principle so beloved across South Asia – Rahul and Priyanka are card-carrying members of that club, as is Maryam Nawaz Sharif, likely born with a diamond spoon in her mouth, considering the wealth the Nawaz Sharif family both own and flaunt.

There’s one big difference between the Indian and Pakistani dynasts, though: Maryam Nawaz is playing the toughest role of her life and political career; losing would mean self-exile and if she insists on remaining in Pakistan, then the nearby Kot Lakhpat jail, just like it is for her uncle Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza.

Meanwhile, Bilawal and Aseefa know that if they don’t work hard for their people’s affections, they may as well go back home to Larkana and play at noblesse oblige for the rest of their lives.

Both realise they must shelve their political rivalry – the PPP and PML(N) are Pakistan’s biggest parties and have taken turns at sitting on the throne of Pakistan, that is, when it hasn’t been ruled by an army general – if they have to take that long shot at ushering and keeping democracy at home.

Also read: Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan arrests PTM rights activists & signs peace treaty with Taliban

Strange time to be a young politician in Pakistan

This column is not about Rahul and Priyanka – whose refusal to learn the lessons of political defeat is exacerbating the angularities of the Modi mandate – but about young politicians in a country that finally understands the maxim they should have imbibed with their mother’s milk. United we stand, divided we fall.

Like Rahul and Priyanka, the Bhutto-Zardari siblings — Bilawal and Aseefa and Bakhtawar, who got engaged last week – have been ghettoised by their parents’ politics, in life and death. Theirs are extraordinary lives, stalked by shadows lurking over their shoulders and uncertainty around every corner. If you hide, there’s no knowing the bullet won’t get you; the only option is to relentlessly move forward, believing tomorrow may be a better day than yesterday.

This is a strange time in Pakistan. The economy is crashing, the prime minister is increasingly dependent on his military masters, and the media remains wary of confrontation. Elections are three years away. But there is also a new game in town intent on fighting the military establishment and its protégé-PM, and it’s called the PDM.

The gauntlet was first thrown in Gujranwala in October. Since, jalsas in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Multan have followed. Maryam Nawaz is now preparing for the big one in the party’s bastion in Lahore on 13 December, despite Imran Khan’s refusal to give permission for the rally. Asif Ali Zardari has already called Nawaz Sharif in London and confirmed that Bilawal, now Covid-free, will attend.

The last of the spectacles will be held on 27 December in Larkana, the hometown of the Bhuttos, on the day Benazir was assassinated 13 years ago.

Also read: Pakistan’s opposition is publicly naming all-powerful army as root of all evil. But what now?

Time to don the thinking hat, India 

Is Pakistan on the cusp of another turn in its history? Surely, its people will decide whether they are stronger than the military establishment or will ultimately be co-opted by it. The answer is sure to have a huge impact on the rest of the region.

Still, one thing is clear. With the region in such tumult, from the rampaging effect of Covid-19, expanding Chinese influence as well as a new power in the United States, nations are taking the first steps to both heal the wounds of history and hedge for the future. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s meeting with Pakistan high commissioner in Dhaka last week is notable in this regard – even when she told him off about Pakistan’s refusal to apologise for its 1971 misdeeds, she did not refuse to meet him.

Perhaps, New Delhi should ask why Dhaka is talking to its enemy; after all, there can be nothing worse than speaking to those who once tormented you. Perhaps Hasina realises that she must play with the cards she has, which includes India’s determination to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) – not just wait to get those she wants.

The question is, why is PM Modi, who understands the churning of history, reducing his own options by refusing to dialogue within and abroad? In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the 1971 war, the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, which India has begun to celebrate, this could be something to think about.

Views are personal.

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  1. We Indians do not want the Gandhis anymore. Corrupt Modi and hindutva gang has to be destroyed, but only by a real political opposition. LET THE GANDHIS RESIGN. WHY DON”T THEY RESIGN AND LEAVE THE COUNTRY TO INDIANS? WE NEED A REAL CONGRESS PRESIDENT.

  2. Every journalist writing article in big newspapers and web-portals should have at least some ability to see what the current political trends point out towards likely happening in ” NOT TOO DISTANT FUTURE ” . Do honorable journalists writing this piece of hand-out see –India has became orphan after voting out corrupt dynasty and party in 2014 and is longing for the return of them breathlessly. No such panic is visible in political arena to welcome back ejected and defeated political dynasty . Please wake up from your sleep . India has moved miles ahead . In 2019 people of India have re-imposed their faith in new regime and new order. 2024 is also not going to be different in any way . Let ex-dynasts go on pleasure trips to enjoy their inheritance , leaving India to more competent , hard working and honest self-made persons/ politicians.

    • Yeah, getting miles behind Bangladesh, getting snubbed by all neighbours is progress indeed according to you.

  3. It seems to be a good idea for Jyoti to keep writing on pakistan politics. She seems to be highly competent to write about it, as she has covered this issue very well. She should withdraw from indian politics and be a pak specialist journalist. She will discover that she can then curse Modi even more!!

  4. Humanity has paid in Blood by millions to bring about Democracy & get rid of Dynasts. What we need are leaders who come through the grind, grass root leaders, who were born amongst common people, lived amongst us, worked hard & risen up by their own deeds. We have more than enough of Dynasts.

  5. MJ Dawar has long been forced out of PDM , primarily cause of the objections from JUI’s Fazlur Rahman and others

  6. Useless article. Started with Zardari siblings and ends with castigating Modi with paens to the Gandhi siblings in between!

  7. CONGRASS journalist are a unstable and hallucinating lot.

    They are comparing political ideology of pakistani politicians which is determined by GHAZWA E HIND and total religious intolerance.

    To Indian political ideology of RAMRAJYA which denotes education and well being all it’s citizens.

    RAMRAJYA is sought to be dismantled by ROME RAJYA in the dreams of these journalist and hence not possible.

    A proselytizer family will never be able to divide Hindus even with help of pakistani politicians.

  8. The Bhutto family of Larkana is a nightmare for the Pakistan’s establishment, Urdu media, Urdu loving Pakistanis, agencies.

    Imran Khan Niazi is a misogynist, racist, religious extremist. His hooligan supporters and followers are abusive, nasty, vulgar.

  9. In stead of discouraging the dynasts , in a population the size of India you want them to learn from Pakistanis for a come back. GREAT

  10. HaHa. As Shakespeare wroten’ Much ado about nothing’. This is what the article is. There have been plenty of such new beginnings in the past and there will be many more in the future. What will not change are the fundamentals. So no point in making a big deal about it. Yeh sab toh chalta rehta hai. Author needs to find something more useful to do.

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