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Bilawal Bhutto: A challenging road ahead for Pakistan’s youngest foreign minister

For Pakistan, the US and western countries are important, given Islamabad’s dependence on their markets for exports. China’s billions of investments under the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the last seven years have done little good to its economy, which now mostly banks on the IMF bailout package and concessionary loans from Saudi Arabia

Apr 30, 2022
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Bilawal Bhutto: A challenging road ahead for Pakistan’s youngest foreign minister (Photo: Dawn)

At 33, Bilawal Bhutto, the ambitious chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, became the country’s youngest foreign minister this week at a time when the Foreign Office has been going through seemingly two contradictory challenges of mending fences with the West on one hand and managing anti-US domestic sentiment at home on the other.

As the grandson of the country’s most popular civilian leader, former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto—who also happens to be the only top Pakistani leader to be hanged —and the son of Benazir Bhutto, the country’s only woman prime minister, Oxford-educated Bilawal has a rich political legacy of his family in the public life.

However, this legacy is not without historical burdens and stains. While the party is known for batting for civilian supremacy, no political party in Pakistan is without its fair share of dealings with the “Establishment”, the powerful military. The corruption allegations during the presidential stint of his father, Asif Ali Zardari, could also prove counter-productive for him. 

“The party chairman (Bilawal) believes that this position could be a chance he needed to make his own name, in both national and international politics,” Dawn reported, citing people from his inner circle. After all, his PPP party took almost two weeks after the formation of the government to agree on his role, underlying the fear within a section of his party of taking over a crucial job in a unity government where maneuvering space would be limited.

On the international stage, the challenge remains for the country to stay away from the ideological blocs and big-power politics in an increasingly polarized world. Managing the expectations of China, its “iron-friend” and the United States, a difficult but important ally, will be a tough walk for Bhutto.

For Pakistan, the US and western countries are important, given Islamabad’s dependence on their markets for exports. China’s billions of investments under the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the last seven years have done little good to its economy, which now mostly banks on the IMF bailout package and concessionary loans from Saudi Arabia.

On ties with India, when the military and the country’s influential business lobby are batting for the normalization of trade ties, Bhutto as a foreign minister knows it is crucial. His father, Zardari, when he was president, was also known to favour good ties with India. But, at the same time, he, as the chairman of the PPP, knows that it will not be a popular move unless New Delhi makes some concessions on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, a possibility that looks remote, at least for now.

(SAM)

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