Islamabad: Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the scion of a leading political dynasty, on Wednesday took oath as Pakistan’s new foreign minister in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
He was administered the oath of office and secrecy by President Arif Alvi in a simple ceremony at the Aiwan-i-Sadr (President’s House), where Prime Minister Shehbaz, former president Asif Ali Zardari and other officials as well as leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were present.
Bilawal took the oath nearly a week after he met Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif in London last week during which they discussed the “overall political situation” in Pakistan and vowed to work together on issues pertaining to politics and national interest.
It may be mentioned that Bilawal’s PPP is the second-largest party in the current coalition government of Prime Minister Sharif who was appointed on April 11. Prime Minister Shehbaz is the president of PML-N. Bhutto-Zardari, 33, has been tasked with the responsibility of repairing frayed ties with the United States and other Western countries.
Bilawal is the chief of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and the son of three-time former premier Benazir Bhutto who was killed in a bomb and gun attack at a political rally in Rawalpindi in 2007. Bilawal’s father Asif Ali Zardari is a former Pakistani President.
Benazir’s killer has never been caught, and a UN inquiry found that Pakistani authorities had failed to protect her or properly investigate her death.
His mother Benazir was the daughter of former Pakistan prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Zulfiqar was deposed in 1977 by the military when General Ziaul Haq imposed martial law. He was tried for conspiracy in a murder case and hanged in 1979. Three of his four children, including Benazir, were violently killed, making the family the most bereaved political dynasty in Pakistan.
Zulfiqar also started his career as a foreign minister in the 1960s, making an uncanny resemblance with Bilawal.
Repairing ties with India, US
Oxford-educated, forward-looking and a liberal politician, Bilawal has taken charge at a crucial juncture as he faces multiple challenges such as fixing strained ties with the US and finding a way to restart the peace process with neighbouring India.
He will accompany PM Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday on a visit to Saudi Arabia to boost trade and investment, in an effort to mend a yawning current account deficit and falling foreign reserves.
Rise in national politics
Bilawal took over charge as chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), three days after his mother’s assassination in December 2007. Despite suddenly being catapulted to Pakistan’s political echelon, he initially kept a low profile and instead focused on finishing his history degree at Oxford University.
However, he returned to Pakistan in 2010, and since then took an active role as PPP chairman and in the national politics. It is also for the first time that Bilawal has been given a key post in the government and assigned the key portfolio of the foreign minister of the country. He was first elected to the National Assembly in 2018.
He became the head of the ministry of foreign affairs at a crucial juncture when Pakistan needed a stable hand to steer its foreign policy through the choppy waters.
Challenges before Bilawal
Among the main challenges, Bilawal needs to fix strained ties with the US in the wake of conspiracy allegations by former premier Imran Khan and find a way to restart the stalled peace process with neighbouring India.
Imran Khan was ousted from power earlier this month after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan. He, however, did not provide any credible evidence in support of his claim. The US has strongly denied his claims.
Pakistan’s ties with India deteriorated after New Delhi announced withdrawing the special powers of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. India has said that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility, and violence. India has said the onus is on Pakistan to create an environment free of terror and hostility.
(With Agency Inputs)