(Adds dropped letter, paragraph 14)
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Pakistan’s newly-appointed foreign minister on Wednesday rejected claims by former prime minister Imran Khan that the United States had plotted his downfall.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told Reuters that Khan’s ouster last month was in fact a milestone for Pakistani democracy.
“Pakistan has a history of prime ministers who have been removed undemocratically, unconstitutionally through various means,” Bhutto Zardari said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.
“We’ve had a prime minister who was removed and hanged!” Bhutto Zardari said with reference to his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, part of a family history repeatedly marked by violence as well as high office.
Bhutto Zardari was a 19-year-old studying at Oxford University when his mother Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. His father Asif Ali Zardari was also president of Pakistan.
At just 33, he is hoping to appeal to his country’s young population and step into the shoes of a political dynasty. As the leader of his mother’s Pakistan People’s Party, he said will run in the next elections and seek to form a government.
For the moment, he says he is focused on Pakistan’s foreign policy challenges around the world.
While Davos has been dominated by fears around trade blocs and more siloed nations, Bhutto Zardari said multilateral cooperation with neighbouring countries and the West is the way forward for Pakistan.
That has opened his government to attacks from Khan and his supporters. Khan accuses Washington of conspiring with his political opposition to oust him because of his independent foreign policy, which included a trip to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Washington denies Khan’s allegation, which has also been dismissed by Pakistan’s powerful military.
“He’s doing whatever he can to adopt maximalist extremist positions, whip up anti-American sentiment and draw parallels to the Taliban’s struggle in Afghanistan to undermine this space for this democratic transition,” Bhutto Zardari said.
Bhutto Zardari has already met with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and arrived in Davos fresh from a trip to China.
He said he envisaged a role for Pakistan in bridging the gap between the two nations. His grandfather Zulfikar Ali also served as foreign minister.
“The initiation of diplomatic relations between China and the United States has a history that’s connected to my party and my country,” he told Reuters.
“My grandfather played a role in at the time of Henry Kissinger and Nixon in facilitating the early communications between the two countries.”
“I am lucky and fortunate that I have such an illustrious legacy, such imposing historical figures in my own family to look up to, and who still guide me and drive me in the way that their mission, their ideology, their manifestos are my driving force,” he said.
Bhutto Zardari was 19 when he became the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. Now, he hopes to reclaim both his family history and the optimism of his youth.
“We were promised a very different world,” he said.
“I was born in 1988, so the fall of the Berlin Wall and at a time when we were going to see the end of history and the international institutions like the United Nations were going to come together. And unfortunately, we have really been shortchanged.”
In a country where 64% of the population are under 30, according to a 2018 U.N. estimate, he says he believes it is “about time” someone of his age was represented in government.
“We will grow up in the world that is affected by the climate crisis in a way the generation before us cannot understand and cannot appreciate. We will be paying the debts that they incur, and that’ll be a liability on our progress.”
Benazir’s killer has never been caught, and a U.N. inquiry found that Pakistani authorities had failed to protect her or properly investigate her death.
Bhutto Zardari said that despite growing up in the full glare of the public eye, he was not afraid for his own safety.
“Fear is something that I think that one can’t really give into, particularly if they are in politics,” he told Reuters.
(This story refiles to add dropped letter, paragraph 14)
(Reporting by Tara Oakes and Leela de Kretser in Davos; Editing by Alexander Smith)