From Oxford to Lyari

Published July 27, 2011

You try not to be a cynic but how can you not? You try to believe in heroes but there exist none. You try to think beyond political dynasties but that’s the only kind of trend Pakistan has ever really known. You try to make sense of the statements your leaders make but there’s nothing sensible about them. You try to think of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari representing Lyari but it’s just impossible to let your imagination run that far.

President Zardari announced yesterday that his son will be Lyari’s future MNA and “despite being away, he is keenly monitoring developments in Lyari.” Are there any positive developments even taking place in Lyari for Bilawal to monitor? And is Bilawal able to focus on his homework while following the latest in Lyari?

However, Bilawal was quick to tweet that Lyari had been declared his constituency by his father but he did not plan to contest in the next elections.

Whatever the case, Zardari hoped that the people in Lyari would stop complaining about their representatives once Bilawal comes in to the picture – why? Is it his son’s knowledge of Karachi’s ethnic tapestry? His message of peace? His vision for Pakistan or his ability to make peace between feuding groups? Or could it be that the name is enough? Is being (somewhat) a Bhutto enough for the people of Lyari to have faith in him?

Pakistan’s problem is its willingness to accept. A short-lived spark flames up – an argument, a protest, a debate, an angry mob – but then it burns out prematurely. How does Zardari know that Bilawal is Lyari’s future MNA – no it is not his superstitious sources, it is us who have given him this confidence. It is our masses who give votes on the basis of names and have faith in current leaders just because their fathers, grandfathers and uncles have been here before them – doesn’t matter what kind of a job they did – the point is, ruling Pakistan is their right. Right?

Bilawal has an option here – to prove himself he can start at a grass-root level. Localising himself to the country, to Karachi and eventually Lyari. He can then take on all the big plans his father has already put on his to-do list. Being the Oxford-return that he will be, perhaps he realises that in the outside world, you need to get your hands dirty (not through corruption, but otherwise), in order to show your sincerity and then you can go ahead and run for a certain seat or rank and let the public make up their mind. In Pakistan, this step is often skipped and replaced with a speech containing references to “my father… my mother… my grandfather….” and just like that, you become a leader. Will Bilawal be willing to change that or will all that education and exposure be forgotten the minute he sits in his bullet-proof car in a starchy shalwar kameez?

Walking through Lyari’s streets and understanding what could make them more peaceful will be rather daunting as compared to posing on 10 Downing Street. Is Bilawal ready – and if not, who exactly will be his mentor when he returns? His father? Oh dear.

PPP’s Farahnaz Isphahani was quoted as saying that Bilawal is very interested in the party’s youth organisation and plans to bring in new ideas through media technology etc. What Bilawal can do instead is try to work on a way to fulfill his party’s promise to the country first. Pakistan’s need right now is roti, kapra and makaan – new media can wait.

Shyema Sajjad is the Deputy Editor at


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