Bhutto heir defers career launch as floods rage on

The son
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The Independent Online

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the scion of Pakistan's most prominent political dynasty, yesterday pulled out of a planned appearance at a rally in Birmingham this weekend which had been heavily trailed as the launch of his full-time political career alongside his father, President Asif Ali Zardari.

Heavy criticism of Mr Zardari's decision to continue with his trip to Britain despite the emergency created by the flooding in his own country – as well as a rapid rethink about the wisdom of Bilawal entering the fraught world of Pakistani politics at the tender age of 21 – are understood to have prompted the decision to abort the Oxford graduate's move on to the world stage.

Bilawal, who adopted the family name of his mother, Benazir Bhutto, following her assassination in 2008, had been expected to accept the sole chairmanship of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) at the rally, which was due to be attended by 2,500 British Pakistanis at the International Convention Centre today.

The move, which would have followed an address to the gathering by Mr Zardari designed to bolster his support among Britain's influential Pakistani community, was to have been the culmination of a week of choreographed appearances by the heir apparent to Mrs Bhutto's political legacy alongside his father, as he paid visits to President Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron.

But in a statement yesterday, Bilawal, who graduated this summer from Oxford's Christ Church college with a 2:1 in history, announced that he had "no immediate plans" to join frontline politics and would not attend the rally, choosing to collect donations for victims of the floods which have affected 12 million people.

He said: "I will not be attending the [Birmingham] event; instead I will be opening a donation point at the Pakistan High Commission in London for victims of the terrible floods which have ravaged northern Pakistan. I intend to continue my education, both academic and political."

Despite his young age and self-avowed political inexperience, Bilawal has been openly touted as the successor to the Bhutto political dynasty started by his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the PPP and president who was hanged by the country's military rulers.

One senior Pakistani minister claimed this week that Bilawal would be the PPP nominee for prime minister at the country's next general elections due to be held no later than 2013, despite conventions which bar anyone from holding the post before the age of 36.

But a PPP source told The Independent yesterday that a decision had been taken that the timing was no longer right for a "grand unveiling" of Mrs Bhutto's eldest child on the political stage. The source said: "The domestic climate is not good. It would not have looked correct to be doing this at such a time."

Immediately his mother's death in December 2008, Bilawal was unveiled as the co-chairman of the PPP with his father at a hastily arranged press conference in London. He has been quietly groomed to enter the family business of politics, telling an audience in Bradford that he intended to stand by his mother's assertion that "democracy is the best revenge".

Bilawal, who turns 22 next month, said he was now looking at continuing his studies and appealed to be allowed to further his education without media intrusion.

He said: "I am looking into the possibility of studying law, just as my grandfather did. I feel that an understanding of law and an appreciation for the rule of law is important for any politician seeking to strengthen democracy in Pakistan."