- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008


LONDON — The teenage son of Benazir Bhutto is due to fly back to Britain today to resume his studies after declaring he is not ready to take the place of his slain mother at the heart of Pakistani politics.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is a student at Oxford University, has confided to family friends that too much is expected of him — at just 19 — to follow immediately in his mother’s footsteps.

His greatest desire is apparently to be an “ordinary student,” with his short-term concerns an imminent meeting with his Oxford college dean and good grades in his new year exams, rather than the rescheduled Pakistani elections on Feb. 18.

Mrs. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was scheduled to fly out of Pakistan to Dubai with their son yesterday amid speculation that her mother was gravely ill in the Arab emirate, Agence France-Presse reported from Karachi, Pakistan.

The revelations about the young Mr. Zardari’s future came as fellow students portrayed him as a charismatic, carefree, gregarious young man who is so accustomed to Western ways that he even wears a “hoodie” (hooded sweatshirt).

Mr. Zardari, who is in his freshman year at Christ Church College, was thrust into the political limelight when he was named chairman of his mother’s Pakistan Peoples Party last week, following Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination in Pakistan on Dec. 27.

This week, however, he is expected to appeal to the party faithful to lower their expectations of him. Family friends who have spoken to Mr. Zardari in the past week say that although he was named chairman of the party, he has no wish to take control of it.

“He believes the biggest challenge is … dealing with his new role in the limelight and maintaining his life as an ordinary student,” one friend told the Sunday Telegraph.

Meanwhile, acquaintances at the university have revealed him to be a popular student. “He is your standard charismatic, funny, engaging student,” said Luke Tryl, 20, the former president of the Oxford Union debating society.

Mr. Zardari’s postings on the social networking Web site Facebook suggest he enjoyed juggling “drinks with tutes (tutors)” and wearing a “hoodie” to an Oxford nightclub, Filth.

Five days before his mother was killed, he revealed his hopes for 2008, while joking about his fears. “I’m still taking your advice about starting work after new year kicks off. If i am kicked out … I’ll blame u. I won’t be able to adjust after Oxford,” he told a fellow undergraduate.

His enthusiasm for student life is also evident in photographs posted on the site, which recall the hectic social life enjoyed by his mother at Oxford in the 1970s.

His friends sport streaks of “warpaint” make-up, while Mr. Zardari is photographed wearing his hoodie. He appears in another set of photographs entitled “The incomprehensibles” wearing a more flamboyant fluffy jacket. His street-style hand gestures suggest playful references to American rap stars.

Mr. Zardari’s friends could not recall seeing him drink alcohol, possibly in deference to his Muslim faith, but his postings show a relaxed attitude to others drinking.

On a visit to his home in Dubai, where he spent much of his childhood, he tells one friend: “Ahh yes i could do christmas for the presents but … i hate shopping. There is also a possibility i could be tried for blasphemy somewhere. hope u get drunk on new years eve.”

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