ISLAMABAD, March 26: Tuesday’s unexplained departure of PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Dubai left the party leadership rudderless as it struggled to counter media reports about his differences with his father, President Asif Ali Zardari, over the way party affairs were being managed.
Though the party leadership immediately denied reports of the rift in the family, it failed to satisfy the sceptical media when asked why Bilawal had left the country at this crucial juncture when all the political parties were launching their election campaigns and finalising candidates for the May 11 polls.
“Such reports are part of a malicious propaganda campaign against the PPP and there is no truth in them and he (Bilawal) will be back in the country soon to lead the election campaign,” said the party’s information secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira. He was asked to comment on the reports that Bilawal had left the country because of differences with his father and aunt Faryal Talpur over the award of the party tickets.
But Mr Kaira would not say if the party’s young chairman would be back in the country by April 4 when the party planned to launch its election campaign from Garhi Khuda Bakhsh Bhutto on the occasion of the 34th death anniversary of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
“This is our internal matter. We have serious security concerns for Bilawal. How much blood do you want the PPP to shed,” Mr Kaira said.
He said the chairman would lead the campaign but would not be able to do it openly like heads of other parties because of “serious security threats”.
Bilawal, who is the chairman of the PPP-Parliamentarians, left the country the day the Election Commission of Pakistan gave its verdict in the dispute over the ownership of the PPP, declaring him the genuine and legitimate patron-in-chief of the party.
The other two claimants were Naheed Khan, political secretary to Benazir Bhutto, and Ghinwa Bhutto, widow of Murtaza Bhutto.
All the country’s TV channels flashed reports and aired special programmes after Indian news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that Bilawal had left for Dubai after a tiff with his father, leaving the party without its star campaigner for the election.
Quoting unnamed sources, the PTI report claimed that Bilawal was upset because of the refusal of his aunt Faryal Talpur to award tickets to certain people in Sindh on his recommendation. The report claimed that Bilawal had discussed the issue with his father and sought authority to take decisions on party affairs.
But President Zardari sided with his sister who plays a key role in party affairs, telling his son that he would be handed over the command of the PPP “after he is groomed politically”.
A key member of the PPP from Sindh, Sharmila Farooqi, is reported to have confirmed that Bilawal would not be “physically” taking part in the party’s election campaign, citing “security concerns” as the main reason behind the decision.
Hasham Riaz, chief of staff of Bilawal, has confirmed that he had left for Dubai, but dismissed reports of a rift between the father and the son as “rumours”.
“There is no truth whatsoever in the reports of Bilawal falling out with his father. The social media gossip purveying the report also contains the denial by Bilawal’s office,” said the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar, when contacted.
This was not the first time that “baseless reports of rift in the family” had been “mischievously purveyed”, he said. “It is déjà vu.”Asked why Bilawal had left the country at a time when all the parties were finalising their candidates, Mr Babar said Bilawal had been in and out of the country and there was nothing unusual about his foreign trips.
“He will be in the election campaign of the party.” For security reasons, his schedule could not be made public in advance, he said.
Though a number of PPP leaders, including Bilawal’s sister Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, rejected reports about a rift in the family on social media, there was no direct statement from Bilawal.