Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif appoints Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto, as foreign minister, giving his coalition ally a senior role in repairing frayed ties with US and other countries.
The scion of Pakistan's most influential political dynasty has been appointed foreign minister, the latest step up a ladder likely to take Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to the top of the country's leadership.
At just 33, Bhutto becomes one of the world's youngest foreign ministers on Wednesday but inherits a diplomatic bag of issues that started well before he was born –– including relations with arch-rival India.
Bhutto was sworn in two weeks after he helped lead an alliance that toppled Imran Khan and saw Shehbaz Sharif become prime minister.
Khan has alleged that the United States backed a conspiracy to topple him just because he refused Washington's advice not to visit Russia in February, a charge Washington denies.
Bhutto's first foreign mission in the role will be accompanying Sharif on Thursday to Saudi Arabia, a key trade partner and regular source of relief for Pakistan's struggling economy.
Sharif is likely to seek financial support from Riyadh to help build the country's foreign reserves, which have fallen to $10.8 billion, hardly enough to pay for two months of imports.
Bhutto said in a Twitter post he was "honoured" and humbled to take the oath as foreign minister.
He and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) "will play our part in restoring democracy, passing electoral reforms, fighting for a fairer economy & advocating Pakistans case on the world stage," he wrote.
Heartiest congratulations to @BBhuttoZardari on the start of his public service career. I am confident he will add tremendous value to our foreign policy and inject it with a fresh perspective. I wish him the very best & look forward to working with him.— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) April 27, 2022
Bhutto is the son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and ex-president Asif Ali Zardari, as well as the grandson of another former premier, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
His grandfather also served as foreign minister in the mid-1960s and was the founder of the PPP that Bhutto now leads.
He became party leader aged just 19, while a student at Oxford University, following his mother's assassination in 2007.
She, in turn, had taken over the party's stewardship from her mother Nusrat, who became chairwoman following the execution of her husband Zulfikar in 1979 under military dictator Zia-ul-Haq.
The new foreign minister is considered a progressive, in his mother's image, and has frequently spoken out on the rights of women and minorities.
With more than half of Pakistan's population aged 22 or below, Bhutto's social media savvy is also a hit with the young, although he is frequently mocked for a poor command of Urdu, the national language.
Bilawal becomes “the youngest” FM in Pakistan’s history. Which is also his first ever actual job. Why? Because dynastic politics allowed him to be one. There’s nothing to celebrate here.— Hajira Maryam (@hajiramirza) April 27, 2022
Mixed opinions on Bhutto's abilities
Political commentators have mixed opinions on Bhutto's abilities –– or how long he can maintain good relations with premier Sharif, of the rival Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party.
"I believe he is an un-tested missile," analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi told the AFP news agency.
"It is too early for a young MP like Bilawal Bhutto... and it will be difficult for him to handle issues Pakistan faces, with serious challenges on external fronts."
Fellow analyst Farzana Bari disagreed.
"I think Bilawal is intelligent enough to hold the fort," she told AFP, adding he was "more progressive" than the leaders of other political parties.