It was always an unlikely location for the crown prince of Pakistan to be formally presented to his nation. Birmingham is a long way from the bustle of Karachi, the bazaars of Peshawar or the barracks of Rawalpindi.But it was in the Midlands city that President Asif Ali Zardari, the current leader of Pakistan, was supposed to watch over the political coming out of his son today.
In the event, the investiture of the 21-year-old scion of the Bhutto dynasty was postponed – due to the humanitarian crisis back home in Pakistan. But that it will one day take place seems inevitable. The south Asian dynasties remain strong.
In India, the great local democracy, , 40, is almost certain to succeed the incumbent Manmoham Singh at some stage to become a fourth-generation prime minister, or at least principal candidate. In Bangladesh, the decades-old rivalry between Begum and Wazed for control of the country continues that between the late husband of one and the father of the other. Both died bloodily.
In Burma, Nobel prize-winning opposition leader is the daughter of assassinated nationalist leader Aung San. In Sri Lanka, the son of controversial president has just won a seat in the family fief of Hambantota. At state or provincial level in all these countries, similar dynamics are at work.
Experts point to different reasons for the tenacity of dynastic politics in the subcontinent. One is the need for any successful politician to bolster the hold on power by recruiting loyal retainers who will not defect for material gain; another is the importance of personalities in contests stripped of ideological content; a third is high levels of illiteracy, which make a famous name a determining factor for tens of millions of voters.
One common strand uniting the dynasties is that most of them speak English as a first language. Along with railways and a swollen bureaucracy, it may be that British rule bequeathed something else too: a taste for hereditary power.
The UK may not be so inappropriate a location for the crown prince of Pakistan to receive his sword and sceptre after all – if, of course, he does eventually decide to enter politics.