NEW DELHI: He stood metres from the tomb of his mother, a two-time prime minister killed exactly five years ago, and that of his grandfather, a prime minister and president ousted in a military coup and hanged by a dictator, and told the huge crowd in front of the white-domed mausoleum that there were ''two powers'' in his homeland, ''those on the right path and those on the path of lies''.
On Thursday, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 24-year-old only son of Benazir Bhutto and heir to one of the most controversial political dynasties in the world, made his formal debut in the lethal world of Pakistani politics at a small village that is his family's ancestral home in the south of the country. ''Bilawal has arrived. This was a huge step. It was make or break for him,'' said Nadeem Paracha, a well-known columnist with Dawn newspaper, after the speech.
Less than three years ago, Mr Bhutto Zardari was studying history and politics at Oxford. Now he is probably the most high-profile target in a country hit by wave after wave of extremist violence.
He spoke of the sacrifices made by members of his family, workers of the Pakistan People's Party, and others such as Shiite Muslims shot dead in sectarian violence and Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl activist who was shot and badly injured by militants in October and is recovering in a British hospital.
''If one Malala will be killed, thousands will replace her. One Benazir was killed; thousands have replaced her,'' he told the crowds.
Observers noted that Mr Bhutto Zardari's use of Urdu, the language which he has had to hastily learn since his return to Pakistan, was, if still accented, much improved.
''He does not believe in being the anointed prince. He wants to earn the respect of the party workers and of the people of Pakistan,'' said Farahnaz Ispahani, a former PPP member of parliament and confidant of the Bhutto family. More than 5000 police had been deployed to protect the event. Helicopters hovered overhead.
Parliamentary elections due this northern spring are likely to test the ruling PPP-led coalition, hit by rising prices for food, violence, anger at endemic graft and a power crisis that brings daily electricity cuts.
Mr Bhutto Zardari's father, Asif Ali Zardari, has been the President of Pakistan since 2008. Mr Zardari has been described as a ''transitional leader'' for the PPP.
One analyst, Cyril Almeida, said although Mr Bhutto Zardari's courage was unquestionable, it was less certain that a political novice could ''solve the problems faced by the country … whatever his last name''.
Guardian News & Media