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There is a Dilemma

As long as Asif Zardari has remained at the helm of affairs in the PPP, Bilawal
Bhutto has not challenged his father’s politics. What happens after that?

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar | July 2020

On November 30, 1967, in the house of Dr. Mubashir Hasan in Lahore, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was formed. Since then, the leadership of the PPP has remained within the Bhutto family. After the overthrow of Bhutto’s regime and the imposition of Martial Law on July 5, 1977, Nusrat Bhutto, the spouse of Z. A. Bhutto took the reins of the party, followed by Benazir Bhutto and Bilawal Bhutto. Benazir’s assassination on December 27, 2007 led to Asif Ali Zardari’s complete hold over the PPP and it will only diminish once he phases out from the scene.

Enormous skills in political manipulation and maneuvering, have proved to be both an asset and a liability for Asif Ali Zardari. During Benazir’s first government from December 1988 till August 1990, Zardari was labeled as “Mr. Ten Percent” as he was blamed for earning a bad name for the PPP government because of alleged corruption and nepotism. In Benazir’s second government, from October 1993 till November 1996, again Zardari managed to strengthen his influence in the Prime Minister’s House and was held responsible for Benazir’s downfall. In both cases, Zardari was arrested under charges of corruption and remained in prison for many years. After Benazir’s dismissal for the second time on November 5, 1996 by the then hand-picked President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, Benazir tried to marginalize Zardari’s influence till the time she was assassinated on December 27, 2007, after addressing a public meeting in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh.

Zardari’s rise to power began after Benazir’s death when he named himself as PPP’s co-Chairman and his teenage son Bilawal as Chairman, citing the ‘will’ of Benazir. The fact that Zardari, despite being termed as a most controversial figure, managed to get himself elected as President of Pakistan in September 2008 is enough to prove his manipulatory skills. Against all odds, particularly the “Memogate” scandal, following ‘Operation Gerinimo” of May 2, 2011 which tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden from a compound in Abbottabad, he proved his survival instincts and skills.

Zardari’s magic and political skills had started diminishing when the PPP went out of power in 2013.

There are now reports about the deteriorating health of Zardari and his phasing out from the political scene. This will raise a number of questions about the future of PPP leadership. Will PPP be able to fill the void left with the departure of Zardari? Will anti-Zardari elements within PPP which, since the beginning were against his mode of politics and held him responsible for the murder and assassination of his brother-in-law Mir Murtaza Bhutto and his own spouse Benazir Bhutto, re-enter the fold of PPP and restore the party as what it was during Z. A. Bhutto’s time?

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The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations and former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi. He can be reached at

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