Scion of Pakistan’s leading political dynasty, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on Wednesday took oath as the foreign minister in the government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at a crucial juncture as he faces multiple challenges such as fixing strained ties with the US and finding a way to restart the peace process with neighbouring India.
President Arif Alvi administered the oath to 33-year-old Bilawal at a simple ceremony at the Aiwan-i-Sadr (President’s House), where Prime Minister Shehbaz, former president Asif Ali Zardari and other officials as well as leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were present.
It is for the first time when Mr Bilawal has been given a key post in the government and assigned the key portfolio of foreign minister of the country. He was first elected to the National Assembly in 2018.
He became the head of the ministry of foreign affairs at a crucial juncture when Pakistan needed a stable hand to steer the foreign policy through the choppy waters.
Among the main challenges, Mr Bilawal needs to fix strained ties with the US in the wake of conspiracy allegations by former premier Imran Khan and find a way to restart the stalled peace process with neighbouring India.
Mr Khan was ousted from power earlier this month after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan. He, however, did not provide any credible evidence in support of his claim. The US has strongly denied his claims.
Pakistan’s ties with India deteriorated after New Delhi announced withdrawing the special powers of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.
India has said that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility, and violence. India has said the onus is on Pakistan to create an environment free of terror and hostility.
Mr Bilawal took the oath nearly a week after he met Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif in London last week during which they discussed the “overall political situation” in Pakistan and vowed to work together on issues pertaining to politics and national interest.
PPP is the second largest party in the current coalition government of Prime Minister Sharif who was appointed on April 11.
Prime Minister Shehbaz is the president of PML-N.
Mr Bilawal’s sister Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari congratulated “the youngest Foreign Minister in Pakistan’s history.”
“The task is daunting, and the previous government have hurt our international standing but I have no doubt that you will make our country, party, and family proud,” she tweeted.
Mr Bilawal is son of three-time former premier Benazir Bhutto who was killed in a bomb and gun attack at a political rally in Rawalpindi in 2007. She was daughter of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Zulfiqar was deposed in 1977 by the military when General Zia-ul-Haq imposed martial law. He was tried for conspiracy in a murder case and hanged in 1979. Three of his four children, including Benazir, were violently killed, making the family the most bereaved political dynasty in Pakistan.
Zulfiqar also started his career as foreign minister in the 1960s, making an uncanny resemblance with Mr Bilawal. Mr Bilawal’s sister Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari had congratulated him earlier in the day for taking oath as the country’s foreign minister.
“Today Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will take oath as Pakistan’s foreign minister in this unity government — decided by [the] PPP CEC (central executive committee) and we couldn’t be more proud of him! Already outshone in parliament and always stuck to his democratic values — excited to witness this path if God wills,” she had tweeted.