Bilawal makes history but faces tough test as youngest FM | The Express Tribune


ISLAMABAD:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari became the youngest foreign minister of Pakistan as he finally took oath on Wednesday to head a ministry at a time when the country is facing multiple challenges on the external front.

The 33-year-old followed the footsteps of his grandfather Zulifkar Ali Bhutto, who became the foreign minister at the age of 35. He was administered oath by President Arif Alvi while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and other members of the coalition government were also present.

Few months ago no one could have imagined that PPP Chairman Bilawal could serve under Prime Minister Shehbaz. There were hectic consultations within the PPP before Bilawal agreed to join the Shahebaz’s cabinet as opinions were divided whether as head of his own party he should serve under the PML-N president.

Read more: Bilawal takes oath as foreign minister

But eventually the party gave a go ahead given the current political situation and also back to back meetings Bilawal had in London with PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif where both reportedly agreed to work together for the larger good of the country and continuation of democracy.

Visit to China embassy

The first thing the newly appointed foreign minister did was to visit the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad to condole deaths of a Chinese professor and two teachers at Karachi University suicide attack on Tuesday.

He later arrived at the foreign office along with his deputy Hina Rabbani Khar and was briefed about the foreign policy issues by the foreign secretary and other officials.

Bilawal was elected member of the National Assembly for the first time in 2018 but this is his first job as a cabinet member.

Sources within the foreign office told The Express Tribune that the new foreign minister will have his hands full in dealing with multiple challenges on the foreign policy front. The presence of Hina Rabbani Khar, who already served as foreign minister during the last term of PPP, will help Bilawal understand the working of the foreign office. “It appears that Hina Rabbani Khar will do most of the leg work while young Bilawal will gradually learn the art of diplomacy,” said the source while referring to the Bilawal-Hina combination.

Bilawal’s first major assignment as foreign minister will be to accompany the prime minister on his visit to Saudi Arabia. Shehbaz is undertaking a visit to Saudi Arabia from Thursday and Bilawal will be part of the delegation.

Also read: Bilawal struggles to defend dynastic politics during CNN interview

The PPP chairman has taken charge of the foreign ministry when Pakistan is confronting many challenges. Some of the challenges include resetting ties with the West particularly with the United States as controversy surrounding the diplomatic cable seemed to have undermined Pakistan’s relationship with Washington. There are signs that the new government is eager to engage with the Biden administration as the acting US ambassador after her meeting with Hina Rabbani Khar on Wednesday met Finance Minister Dr Miftah Ismail.

The Shehbaz-led government will also seek to focus on Pakistan’s relationship with the European Union, a major trading partner of the country.

Similarly, there may be a push to lower tensions with neighbouring India provided the Modi government responded positively to the peace overtures.

Afghanistan is emerging a major problem for Pakistan as recent cross border terrorist attacks indicated that ties with the Afghan Taliban are not ideal.

Sources said with the right messaging and prudent approach, the new government can quickly show some progress on the foreign policy front.

“But make no mistake, it will be a tough task for young Bilawal,” commented a foreign office official.



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