KARACHI: As reports of rifts within his party thrive, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari returned to Karachi Monday after being away from the country for nearly seven months.
A PPP insider close to Bilawal said the chairperson’s return to Karachi was a “clear message” to disgruntled elements within the party that all was well between co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and his son.
“Dr Zulfiqar’s Mirza’s propaganda and abusive rant against Zardari have united the father and son,” he said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter.
“Zardari was not present at the All Parties Conference (APC) on the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) last week as he was in Dubai with Bilawal,” the senior party source added.
“So all rumours that there is friction between Bilawal and his father now stand quelled.”
He, however, added that Bilawal’s return should not be billed as his re-entry into the political landscape. “If he was returning to politics, it would be a million rupee welcome,” the party insider said.
“He has returned quietly, with no fanfare at the airport. It is a symbolic move. He will leave in a few days and again return after Ramazan, when there will be a big rally in Lahore and Karachi like the October 18 jalsa.”
In last year’s October rally which was described by observers as Bilawal’s formal political launch, the PPP chairman had outlined a bold and ambitious agenda for his party and had vowed to foil ‘conspiracies’ that he said were being hatched to derail democracy.
But the show was seen as “too aggressive” by the PPP, as his father later advised Bilawal to “tread cautiously and have a temporary break from active politics”.
“With his criticism against the MQM and India, Bilawal was too aggressive at the October rally. In this regard, he is like his mother and uncle Murtaza,” the party member added.
Zardari had told a group of party men during his stay at Bilawal House that the PPP’s relations with the MQM soured because of Bilawal’s indiscreet statements, and that he had advised his son to have a temporary break from politics.
The PPP had launched 26-year-old Bilawal into politics in its Oct 18 rally in Karachi last year. Prior to that, Bilawal had asked Altaf to rein in his “namaloom afraad” (unidentified men) otherwise there would be serious consequences if anything happened to PPP workers.
“Uncle Altaf, if my workers get a single scratch, forget the London police; I will make your life miserable.”
The MQM had reacted strongly and eventually parted ways from the coalition government in Sindh.
In December — days ahead of his mother’s death anniversary — reports surfaced that Zardari was hoping to ‘persuade’ Bilawal to return to Pakistan to attend Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary on Dec 27.
A source close to Zardari had confirmed on Dec 24 that he had gone to London to “bring his son back home”.
Bilawal, however, did not return to Pakistan for the tribute, with party officials citing security concerns as the basis of his decision.
The young Bhutto scion’s return to Karachi comes amidst blistering criticism by PPP stalwart Zulfiqar Mirza against his father. Mirza has alleged in several talk shows that Zardari was laundering money through supermodel Ayyan, who is currently in jail for trying to smuggle $500,000 out of Pakistan in her luggage.
The firebrand has on numerous occasions levied allegations of corruption against the Sindh government as well. In February this year, Mirza was ousted from PPP’s central executive committee for his outbursts against Zardari.
The developments coincide with a drop in public support for the party in recent months, with PPP’s poor performance in the recently held local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well the Karachi cantonment board elections signalling trouble.
Moreover, the party was unable to muster a strong show of support at a rally held in its traditional stronghold of Lyari in April, where Zardari made an emotional speech in which he vowed to hold the leadership fort “till Bilawal and Aseefa take the helm”.
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