A new generation
Is Aseefa Bhutto Zardari ‘Pakistan’s Priyanka Gandhi’?
What is common between Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra and Aseefa Bhutto Zardari? If Priyanka reminds Indians of her grandmother late Indira Gandhi, people of Pakistan see in Aseefa her late mother Benazir Bhutto.
Being a Bhutto, the Gandhi-Nehru family of Pakistan, it was enviable that Aseefa, the youngest daughter and darling of her mother, would one day follow her path. Her father Asif Ali Zardari, a master political tactician, choose the right moment for Aseefa to come on the centre-stage of Pakistani politics. With the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an 11-party opposition alliance, gaining momentum against the Imran Khan government, her older brother Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), down with COVID-19, Zardari choreographed Aseefa's political debut at Multan rally of the PDM on November 30, the day Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her grandfather, founded the PPP in 1967 in Lahore. Another reason for selecting a Punjab city was that late Bhutto despite being a Sindhi had massive grassroots support in Punjab, which over the years has been eaten up by Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). So, it was the best time to launch Aseefa and she did not disappoint.
As Aseefa came to the stage and started her speech, many Pakistanis were overwhelmed by nostalgia. Senior Pakistani analyst Mazhar Abbas said: "If you close your eyes, you will think it's Benazir speaking".
Another senior journalist Rauf Klasra says it was a very thought-out debut as Aseefa read from a written speech, which was just five-minute-long and unlike Maryam Nawaz, Sharif's daughter, and her brother Bilawal it was not fiery but on the target as she trained her guns on misgovernance of the Imran government. Looking at Aseefa's confidence and calmness, who is in the late 20s, most political observers say the PPP has fired the biggest salvo from its arsenal. It's a win-win situation for the PPP. With father Zardari seriously ill and Bilawal emerging on the national level, Aseefa can add to PPP's political firepower in their citadel of Sindh.
Although unlike Priyanka, who had been actively campaigning for the Congress, Aseefa did not appear in PPP's rallies previously, people close to the Bhutto family say Aseefa has her mother's traits. In 2017, Aseefa and elder sister Bakhtawar had strongly opposed entry into PPP of Irfan Ullah Marwat, son-in-law of Pakistan President late Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Marwat was accused of sexually assaulting Benazir's close friend. People say it was Aseefa who put her foot down and forced her father to rescind his decision.
Both Priyanka and Aseefa hail from what is called the 'first political family' of India and Pakistan respectively and have suffered great personal tragedies. Priyanka's grandmother and father were assassinated while Aseefa's grandfather Bhutto, Pakistan's first elected Prime Minister was hanged by General Zia-ul Haq while her mother, the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated.
Both have joined the political mainstream to help their brothers but a battle-hardened Priyanka comes with a baggage of alleged corruption charges against her husband Robert Vadra. Novice Aseefa has a long way to go but she has a clear advantage over Priyanka and Maryam in this regard as she comes with no political baggage. Despite her father facing a flurry of corruption charges, her or her sister Bakhtawar's names were left out.
As Aseefa, wearing a Sindhi design blue kurta-shalwar with her head slightly covered like her mother flashed victory sign from her car, the road was cleared and the entire area reverberated with PPP's 'jiyals' (diehard supporters) raising their famous war cry 'Zinda Hai Bhutto Zinda Hai' (alive, Bhutto is alive).
Summing up the entire emotional scene, a Lahore-based journalist said: "The army may have hanged Bhutto and killed Benazir but it cannot kill the Bhutto legacy, which lives on."
The writer has worked on senior editorial positions for many renowned international publications. Views expressed are personal