Profile: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at Christ Church College in Oxford (11 January 2008) Image copyright AP
Image caption Bilawal Bhutto was still a student when his mother was killed in 2007

Bilawal Bhutto Zardar was barely 19 when he inherited a role in a dynasty whose history is steeped in power and bloodshed.

He is the son of former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and murdered ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Three days after his mother's assassination in December 2007, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took over her position as chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Despite suddenly being catapulted to the top of the political echelon, he initially kept a low profile, focusing instead on finishing his history degree at Oxford University.

But he returned to Pakistan in 2010, and has taken on a more active role as PPP chairman since then.

Now, he is 25 - old enough to run for parliament, notes the BBC's Lyse Doucet who interviewed him in January - and he says he wants to play a greater role in his party, which was badly defeated in elections in 2013.

"I think it is time for me... to start taking on more responsibility."

But he added: "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."

He also called for military action against the Taliban, setting himself apart from nearly all other prominent politicians who have been pushing for talks with the militants.

Early evidence of Bilawal Bhutto's political rise was seen in December 2012 - it appeared he was on the verge of fulfilling what many in the media hoped would be a new Pakistani "sonrise" when he addressed a rally in Sindh Province on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of his mother.

"He came, he saw and he conquered," was how the Pakistani Daily Times summed the rally up.

His journey may only have just begun, but such is the pressure of his family name that he will find it difficult to escape comparisons with his mother, father and grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was Pakistan's first elected prime minister who was executed under martial law in 1979.

The heir to one of South Asia's most famous political dynasties must do more than just follow in footsteps. Recent press reports of policy disagreements with his father suggest he may have begun to do so.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Bilawal was by his mother's side when she was re-elected in 1993

'One without equal'

Mr Bhutto Zardari had just turned 19 when his mother died in a gun and bomb attack during her election campaign in December 2007.

His appointment as chairman was considered a strategic move to consolidate the party using the Bhutto legacy: the PPP was founded and has always been led by a Bhutto family member.

As Mr Bhutto Zardari made his first public appearance before the world, his father also announced that his son would be linked with his mother's famous last name.

Born in September 1988, a month before his mother was first elected prime minister, Mr Bhutto Zardari was given a name meaning "one without equal".

While friends of Benazir Bhutto have said that she always envisaged her son becoming her political heir, they agreed that she would not have wanted him to have to bear that burden so young.

He has spent most of his life outside Pakistan, travelling with his mother, who went into self-imposed exile in 1999, moving between London and Dubai, and then studying in Oxford. Since 2010 he has been spending most of his time in Pakistan.

Mr Bhutto Zardari does speak Urdu but, like Benazir, his first language is English and his Urdu accent just as Anglicised as that of his mother. However, language never stopped her from reaching a mass audience, and it remains to be seen if it presents a barrier to her son.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says a recent speech in which he distinguished himself from other politicians by taking a clear stand against the Taliban - delivered in Urdu - went down well with the media and people in Pakistan.

Mr Bhutto Zardari is described as a keen sportsman who enjoys cricket, shooting and horse-riding. He also has a black belt in taekwondo.

In joining Oxford's Christ Church college, he followed in the footsteps of both his mother and his grandfather.

Mr Bhutto Zardari quoted his mother at his first press conference in 2007, saying: "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge."

He did not look entirely at ease as party supporters broke into chants of: "Bilawal, step forward! We are with you!"

But many in Pakistan expect Benazir Bhutto's son to carry on his family's legacy and join the maelstrom of national politics.

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