He was a 19-year-old Oxford undergraduate when his family named him chairman of Pakistan’s oldest dynastic party.
In the years that followed, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, now 26, has been groomed to take over the dynasty and bring his family’s political party back to power.
The young Bhutto officially launched his political career last month, telling hundreds of thousands of supporters at a rally in the city of Karachi he would fight for the revival of the Pakistan People’s Party.
Even though he has emerged as the idealistic new face of the party, one of the country’s most notorious politicians remains firmly in charge: Bilawal’s father, Asif Ali Zardari.
Zardari’s five years as president were marked by allegations of corruption and misgovernment and the PPP was voted out in a 2013 election when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power.
While the PPP relies on the Bhutto name and legacy to bind its supporters, party insiders say Bilawal has little future without the political expertise of his father.
“The son realises he does not have his father’s experience. The father knows his son’s enthusiasm and energy is greater,” said a family friend, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media on the matter.
“The day-to-day running of the PPP, all the decision-making, policy-setting, is still Asif’s domain. Bilawal has no authority or experience. … The boss is Asif Ali Zardari.”
But being the face of Pakistan’s greatest political dynasty is a highly dangerous job.
Bilawal’s grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, died at the gallows, hanged in 1979 after being deposed in a military coup.
His mother, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a bomb and bullet attack in 2007, months after she returned to Pakistan from eight years in self-exile.