Bilawal unlikely to attend Benazir’s death anniversary

Source: Published in Politics on Friday, December 26, 2014

LAHORE/KARACHI/LARKANA: For the first time since the assassination of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto in 2007, her son and party chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is likely to skip her death anniversary because of reported differences with his father, Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr Zardari, who is the PPP’s Co-Chairman, had gone to London to persuade his ‘angry’ son to return home so that he could attend the anniversary event in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh on Saturday. But by all indications he did not succeed.

“Mr Zardari is returning home alone on Friday as Mr Bilawal prefers to stay in London,” a source privy to the development told Dawn on Thursday.

Spokesmen for Mr Zardari and Mr Bilawal had little to say when Dawn sought their comments on the matter.

“Mr Zardari is returning to take part in BB’s death anniversary function, but we have no confirmation as yet about Mr Bilawal’s return,” the former president’s spokesman, Senator Farhatullah Babar, said.

Senator Jehangir Badar, who was recently appointed political adviser to Mr Bilawal, said: “I am waiting for confirmation from the chairman whether he will come or not.”

But he hastened to add that there were no differences between the son and the father and those spreading rumours about these would not succeed in their vested interests.

Talking to journalists at the Bhuttos’ mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh where he reviewed arrangements for the Dec 27 event, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said either Mr Bilawal or Mr Zardari would take part in the death anniversary.

“We expect both will be here on the occasion and, if not, one of them would definitively attend the Dec 27 event,” he said.

He also denied reports about differences between the former president and his son, saying that “their opponents are spreading such rumours”.

In Karachi, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said Mr Bilawal was not feeling well and doctors had advised him against travelling, but he “is expected to participate in the death anniversary programme”.

There has been no word from Mr Bilawal about his participation in the anniversary on his Twitter account. He only posted his picture along with his father, which many in the PPP interpreted as a message for those who believed that there were some differences between the two.

When Mr Bilawal skipped the party’s foundation day event in Lahore on Nov 30, he tweeted: “Despite my insisting, the doctor has vetoed my return temporarily. You, the workers, will have to guide us.”

But this time he did not seek any counselling from the workers who consider Bilawal a last hope for the party’s revival, especially in Punjab.

Although a senior PPP leader has cited “security concerns”, others in the party Dawn spoke to believed that it would be an embarrassment for the leadership if Mr Bilawal chose to stay away from such an important event for the party.

The young leader’s absence from the PPP’s Nov 30 foundation day function had led to widespread speculation about his differences with his father.

Mr Zardari had told a group of PPP leaders during his stay in Lahore that the party’s relations with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement soured because of Bilawal’s “indiscreet statements” and that he had advised him to keep himself away from politics for the time being.

A PPP leader told Dawn that Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto had developed differences over the party’s affairs. “Mr Bilawal appointed Jehangir Badar and Bashir Riaz as his political adviser and press secretary without consulting Mr Zardari,” he said, adding that although the latter did not oppose the choice, he told Mr Bilawal that he would be given a free hand to run the party affairs only after he was fully groomed.

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Written by Habib Khan Ghori | M.B. Kalhoro | Zulqernain Tahir

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