LONDON (Reuters) - Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has cancelled plans to attend a political rally in Britain after his father, President Asif Ali Zardari, came under fire for visiting Europe while Pakistan faced its worst floods in 80 years.
Bilawal Bhutto, son of the late Benazir Bhutto, had been widely expected to make his first major political speech at the rally for British Pakistanis in the city of Birmingham, prompting criticism Zardari was using the trip to promote the family dynasty.
“It has been stated that I am going to launch my political career this Saturday in Birmingham. This is not true,” Bilawal Bhutto said in a statement released by the Pakistan High Commission.
“In fact, I will not even be attending the event and instead I will be opening a donation point at the Pakistani High Commission in London for victims of the terrible floods which have ravaged northern Pakistan,” he said.
Bilawal Bhutto is widely seen as the heir to the Bhutto family dynasty founded by his grandfather, former president and prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged in 1979.
He has been co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) since his mother died in 2007 but has not taken an active part in politics and stayed out of the public eye while he finished his studies at Oxford University in June.
He has however accompanied Zardari during his visit to Britain and France, raising widespread speculation the president was using the tour to launch his son’s political career.
Zardari met British Prime Minister David Cameron for an informal dinner on Thursday and was due to hold more formal talks on Friday. An official at the Pakistan High Commission said Zardari was still expected to address Saturday’s rally.
A spokesman for Cameron said Friday’s talks would focus on strengthening cooperation in countering terrorism, and show support for “stability, security, democracy and prosperity in Pakistan.”
Zardari’s visit has been overshadowed by a diplomatic row sparked by Cameron when, during a visit to India, he questioned Pakistan’s commitment to fighting Islamist militants.
The comments enraged many Pakistanis and the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency cancelled a trip to Britain in protest.
Zardari’s decision to go ahead with the trip after Cameron’s remarks, and at a time when more than 1,600 people have been killed in floods, has faced fierce criticism in Pakistan.
Some had suggested that Bilawal Bhutto’s presence at the political rally under such circumstances might damage his reputation and undermine his standing as a future leader.
In his statement, he said that he was planning to continue his education, “both academic and political” and was looking into the possibility of studying law.
“I feel that an understanding of law and an appreciation for the rule of law is important for any politician seeking to strengthen democracy in Pakistan,” he said.
Reporting by Myra MacDonald; editing by Tim Pearce