The new Bhutto
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But the remembrance of PPP martyrs was not restricted to members of the Bhutto family. Bilawal also spoke of the sacrifices made by the party's workers as well as by citizens of Pakistan, such as the Shia Muslims, who have been subjected to extremist violence. The tribute that resonated with many was for Malala Yousafzai. "How long you will go on killing innocent people? If one Malala will be killed, thousands will replace her. One Benazir was killed; thousands have replaced her," Bilawal told the crowds.
His foray into politics is an opportunity for the PPP to connect with the younger Pakistanis, who now comprise the majority in a country going through a major demographic transition. Imran Khan is widely considered a magnet for the youth. But Bilawal may change that if he can connect with the people. He has a good command of Urdu, for starters, better than his mother's at that age.
Critics have already slammed the PPP for "imposing a 24-year-old novice" on the political arena. This is not new to either the PPP or Pakistan. Benazir entered politics at 24 as well, when her father was ousted in and jailed in 1977. She faced incarceration before she went into exile seven years later, in 1984. Bilawal too was thrown into the deep end five years ago, when Benazir was shot dead in Rawalpindi.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Bilawal's address at Garhi Khuda Baksh was a clear stance on extremism, which even his party colleagues shy away from. His challenge to militants sounded much like his mother's: "On one side we stand up as a wall against the terrorists, and then there are those who are even afraid to say their names."
Leading a political party and an election campaign in a fragmented and diverse Pakistan will not be easy for Bilawal. Like his mother, he will have to prove his mettle and earn the respect and confidence of the party as well as the growing urban population, which has historically been wary of the Bhuttos. The biggest challenge to his political activities remains interacting with the public at a time when Pakistan is under siege by extremists. The threats to Pakistan's political class are real now. The Pakistani Taliban, working under the tutelage of the al-Qaeda, consider parliamentary democracy un-Islamic and want to do away with the constitution. Only recently, they killed Bashir Bilour, a brave leader of the Awami National Party who had opposed them.
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