Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the son of former Pakistan Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and grandson of ex-PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, has demanded that his nation’s military crack down on the Taliban militant organization, citing that the government has “exhausted the option of talks"
Speaking to BBC, Bilawal, 25, of the opposition Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) said politicians need to “wake up” to the grave threat posed by armed fundamentalists like the Taliban and others. The rhetoric of Bilawal, who may one day lead the PPP to the top of the country’s political pyramid again by standing in elections due by 2018, comes as an apparent riposte to current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who has urged that Islamabad engage in negotiations with militant groups. "Dialogue is always an option but we have to have a position of strength," Bilawal said. "How do you talk from a position of strength? You have to beat them on the battlefield. They're fighting us.”
Indeed, in response to yet another spate of terror attacks on government targets, the Pakistani National Assembly is meeting to find a new way to deal with the militant threat. Last week, more than one dozen people died in a suicide bombing in the proximity of army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi, one day after 20 soldiers in a convoy were killed by a bomb blast in the northwest. Bilawal added that virtually the length and breadth of Pakistan are now vulnerable to terrorist attacks. "It's not only confined to North Waziristan,” he said. “They are attacking us in Karachi... We would like to eradicate the Taliban from Pakistan."
Indian television network NDTV noted that North Waziristan, next to Afghanistan, is where Taliban and Al-Qaeda groups are believed to reside and often launch attacks on NATO troops across the border. The Pakistani government is mulling a full-scale military ground offensive in the region to wipe out the militants, something the United States has been urging for years.
Bilawal also blamed the Taliban for the assassination of his mother, Benazir, in December 2007 -- and he noted that the murder failed to wake the country up to the dangers posed by such groups. “The face of Pakistan should not be Osama bin Laden or the terrorists or murderers on a daily basis, it should be the face of those heroes who stand up to them and give this country hope," he said. "It is...Benazir Bhutto who stands up to the Taliban and says that ‘I will fight you.’"
Michael Kugelman, senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, commented that Bilawal's remarks to the BBC are consistent with those of his party on the whole in recent months, which call for Pakistan to crack down hard on militancy. “He may also have been trying to respond to Pakistani public opinion, which seems to be edging a bit more toward support for military operations against extremists as opposed to negotiations,” Kugelman added.
With respect to his own political future, Bilawal declared he wanted to take a more important rols in PPP, which was defeated by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the last election. "I never saw myself as being in politics," he said. "[But] now I think it is time for me or there is the opportunity for me to start taking on more responsibility. But I will be focused more on party politics and working with every level of the party - I don't want to parachute myself in from the top. I want to work with the grassroots, with every level of the party across the country and my aim is the 2018 election."
Kugelman noted that Bilawal is certainly the top candidate to become the next PPP leader, though the same question always nags dynastic products like him -- does he really want to join politics, or is he only doing it because of his family history? “My sense is that Bilawal, much like Rahul Gandhi [in India], is grudgingly taking that major step into high politics,” Kugelman said. “To talk of Bilawal as a future PM is a bit premature, however. He's still young and probably not yet ready to contest elections in 2018. But then again, one never knows with Pakistan's politics.”
Lyse Doucet, BBC’s chief international correspondent who conducted the interview, commented that Bilawal “is under scrutiny for everything - from his fluency in the Urdu language to his very active Twitter account. He's also under [a] constant death threat from the Taliban he blames for his mother Benazir Bhutto's death.” But in the BBC interview, Doucet noted, he appeared poised and confident as he took questions on everything from his suitability for politics, his party's record, to allegations of corruption against his own father, former President Asif Ali Zardari.
“At a time when many have been silenced, understandably, by attacks by the Taliban and others, he bravely calls on much older politicians to fight back,” she added. “Some call him naive, even reckless. But there's a sense that this young Bhutto is now moving more fully into the life he says ‘I didn't choose... it chose me’.”
Separately, a book launch in Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan, designed to promote the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pashtun girl who was shot by a Taliban gunman in late 2012 and became a global activist for women’s education, has been cancelled allegedly due to pressure from local government officials, although local police said the cancellations arose over security fears. The book launch was organized by Peshawar University's Area Study Centre, the Bacha Khan Education Trust (BKET), and an NGO called Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO).
BBC reported that Dr. Khadim Hussain of BKET said local police warned they could not provide adequate security for the book launch of ”I Am Malala.” But Hussain also said he thinks local politicians did not want the event to occur to appease the Taliban. "Two ministers of the [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] KP [provincial] government put pressure on the university administration to call off the program,” he said. “Some important state functionaries also made telephone calls to senior professors of the Area Study Centre.” Hussain said the event will be rescheduled, despite the constant threat of violence from the Taliban.
Similarly, Sarfaraz Khan, the Area Study Centre director, told Agence France Presse: “We were forced to cancel it. We were [forced] by provincial ministers and [the] university vice chancellor. When I refused to follow this illegal order [to cancel the event] police refused to provide security.”
Imran Khan, the former cricketer-turned politician who now leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, which runs the local government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said he was unhappy with the decision to cancel the book event. "[I] am at a loss [to] understand why Malala's book launch [was] stopped in Peshawar,” he tweeted. “PTI believes in freedom of speech/debate, not censorship of ideas.”
But a senior police official told Pakistani media that holding such an event would have invited more Taliban attacks in the area. “Everyone knows that Taliban are against Malala, so we do not want to open another front for ourselves,” the official said.
Malala herself was not in Peshawar as she and her family now live in Birmingham, England where she received extensive medical treatments for her wounds.