Pakistan's fêted son anticipates his days as a dynastic democrat

Heir to bloody political legacy set to take over

Amid the ultra-tight security that will see all mobile phones and liquids banned from the room, President Asif Ali Zardari will address more than 2,000 British Pakistanis in Birmingham on Saturday. Officially, the speech is to shore up the Pakistani leader's support in Britain but the real reason for his appearance will be the young man sitting beside him in a smart suit.

Until early this summer, the habitual environment of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of President Zardari and his assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, had been the sandstone quads of Oxford's Christ Church College where the young undergraduate studied for a history degree and followed in his revered mother's footsteps by joining the Oxford Union.

But while the weeks immediately following finals exams normally present new graduates with a chance to take it easy on a foreign beach or worry about paying off their heavy debts, Bilawal is stepping straight into the political limelight as a novice 21-year-old statesman and the heir apparent to a wealthy political dynasty with an unending talent for bloody internecine strife.

The gathering of Mr Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in Hall 3 of Birmingham's International Convention Centre is widely billed as the formal launch of Bilawal's political career following his graduation from Oxford with a freshly-minted 2:1 degree.

It is a career which senior PPP figures have publicly stated they want to see culminating in the young man becoming his embattled country's prime minister, a post held twice by his mother to both the acclaim and disgust of her fellow Pakistanis.

Embroiled in long-standing corruption allegations which earned him the nickname "Mr Ten Per Cent" and unease over his strategy in dealing with terrorism, Mr Zardari is badly in need of a boost to his support among influential British Pakistanis and is expected to announce that he is handing sole control of the PPP to his son. As one source put it: "What better way of dealing with the critics than unveiling an unblemished replacement?"

Waheed Rasab, the PPP's co-ordinator for the UK and the European Union, insisted the Birmingham meeting – which will be attended by more than 2,500 people – was primarily a chance for British Pakistanis to hear directly from Mr Zardari, whose reputed personal fortune is put at £1bn.

But he added: "Bilawal has been brought up by his mother, he embodies her values. He believes in a democratic Pakistan but it is a tough country in which to survive."

Ever since the murder of his mother in a bomb blast during the 2007 presidential elections, Bilawal has been quietly groomed for power.

At a hasty press conference in the basement of a Knightsbridge hotel within days of Mrs Bhutto's death, her son was appointed co-chairman of the PPP with his father and vowed to take on the family business of politics once he had completed his education.

Noting his mother's assertion that "democracy is the best revenge", Bilawal announced he was taking on her name before saying: "When I return, I promise to lead the party as my mother wanted me to."

President Zardari, who arrived in Britain last night at the start of a five-day tour – to a backdrop of heavy criticism of his decision to go ahead with the visit when three million Pakistanis are stricken by flooding – has made clear his determination to thrust his son into global politics. As the Pakistani leadership emerged from the Elysée Palace in Paris yesterday, it was Bilawal who stood beside his father during the official photocall with President Nicolas Sarkozy. Bilawal was also chosen to accompany his father to an important meeting with Barack Obama last May, after which the US president declared himself impressed by the then student's "talent and prudence". Even for a young man as precociously self-assured and mild mannered as the young Mr Bhutto Zardari, the expectations placed upon him are perhaps dangerously high.

A senior PPP member in Pakistan told The Independent: "Bilawal was a shy young man when his mother died. Now he is in a position to talk to the most powerful people in the world.

"We have started our work well but there is much to be done. It is not going too far to say that we consider him to be the best hope for Pakistan's political future."

All of which is a far cry from the world of Oxford nightclubs and Facebook posts that had until recently punctuated Bilawal's existence, complete with round-the-clock protection by officers from Scotland Yard's diplomatic protection squad.

To raised eyebrows back home, the only son of Mrs Bhutto used his social networking account to discuss attending off-beat nightspots, the joys of "free alcohol" and his friendship with a girl called Boozie Suzie.

Although there is no suggestion that Bilawal drinks alcohol, friends at Oxford said he had made the most of an informal agreement to complete his degree beyond the scrutiny of the media. One friend said: "He was well-liked and charismatic. I think he knew this was his chance to live life a little before taking on the burden of a political career. He definitely has a strong sense of duty. He would post quotations from his mother on his Facebook. He once said 'it is me or the Taliban'."

It is understood that Bilawal, who cannot become an MP in Pakistan until he is 25, will now spend his time between Dubai, where he spent much of his childhood while his father was in prison on corruption charges, and Pakistan, as he begins an ascent to power.

It is a journey already steeped in the blood of his forebears. Bilawal's grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the PPP, was hanged in 1979 on the orders of Pakistan's military dictatorship while his uncle, Murtaza, was shot dead by police outside his home. Mr Zardari was accused of ordering Murtaza's murder with the blessing of his wife but was later cleared of involvement in the killing.

On Saturday afternoon, a new member of the Bhutto clan will step forward to accept that strangest of modern political roles – the dynastic democrat. In his only previous public speech, Bilawal said: "We must guarantee the freedoms of speech, assembly and all other freedoms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This will create an environment where no dictatorship can ever thrive."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the staunchest criticism of Bilawal's chosen career should come from within his own family. Fatima Bhutto, a daughter of Murtaza Bhutto and Bilawal's cousin, said yesterday: "I think the idea that the future of the PPP, which after all is a people's party, or that of Pakistan, is going to be saved by a single family is what has landed us in this mess in the first place."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn