BILAWAL Bhutto-Zardari’s robust defence at the UN headquarters of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Feb 24 trip to Russia came as a pleasant surprise to those more accustomed to the unrelenting toxicity of Pakistani politics. The young foreign minister — the youngest in Pakistan’s history, in fact — displayed remarkable maturity by refusing to fall for a baited question that he could easily have used to discredit and disown the PTI government’s foreign policy decisions. Instead, Mr Bhutto-Zardari stood by the decision taken by Mr Khan and presented a united front despite knowing that there is immense pressure from the US and the international community to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.
During a news briefing at the UN headquarters in New York, Mr Bhutto-Zardari was asked by a journalist what he would say about Mr Khan’s trip to Moscow on the same day the Russia-Ukraine conflict flared up, and how the new government would ‘rectify the mistakes’ of its predecessors. Mr Bhutto-Zardari, without missing a beat, stated in response that he would, “absolutely defend the former prime minister of Pakistan”, and that Pakistan should not be punished for what he described as “an innocent mistake”. In fact, he reiterated many of the same things Mr Khan himself has said regarding the circumstances of that visit: ie, that the trip was made as part of Pakistan’s foreign policy, and that its planners had no prior indication that Russia would be launching an invasion that same day. Not only that, Mr Bhutto-Zardari appeared to echo the former regime’s policy when he stressed that Pakistan was not part of any conflict, did not wish to be a part of any conflict, and wanted to emphasise the importance of dialogue and diplomacy as a resolution to the conflict without taking any side. When he flew to the US at the invitation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Mr Bhutto-Zardari was subjected to jeering criticism by supporters of the same prime minister he so stoutly defended on Thursday. It remains to be seen whether Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s decision not to air Pakistan’s dirty laundry in public and to instead show solidarity with a bitter rival will change any opinions about him at home. Be that as it may, Mr Bhutto-Zardari has demonstrated his potential to grow into a national leader simply by showing that he can act with greater maturity than many of his much older peers.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2022