NEW: Kill a Bhutto and another will emerge, the young Bhutto-Zardari said
NEW: Pakistani President Asif Zardari says his son's training has begun
Benazir Bhutto was killed five years ago in a gun-suicide bomb attack
Thousands gathered near the home to mark the fifth anniversary of her death
The 24-year-old son of the late Benazir Bhutto, groomed to take the reins of power in Pakistan, came of age politically Thursday, exactly five years after the assassination of his mother.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari flexed his tender political muscles at a rally with his father, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, near the family home in Sindh province ahead of next year’s elections.
He delivered a political stump speech acknowledging problems in Pakistan, such as the devastation caused by floods. He also slammed the terror that led to his mother’s killing and asked why there have been no convictions for the crime.
He also backed Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani blogger who became an international cause celebre after she was shot by the Taliban in October this year for supporting the education of girls – a practice much reviled and feared by Islamic militants.
Bhutto-Zardari said that the government has adopted law that protects women in property disputes and from domestic abuse. He tied the assault on Malala to the killing of his mother, condemning and confidently rejecting threats.
“To those who attack Malala, I say, if you attack one Malala, thousands of Malalas will be born,” he said. “We are the followers of Bhutto. If you kill one Bhutto, a Bhutto will emerge from each household.”
For every Benazir Bhutto slain, or martyred, he said, “every woman will become a Benazir.”
“You will stamp out one lantern, then millions of lights will burn bright.”
Bhutto, the first woman elected prime minister in a Muslim nation, led Pakistan twice, from 1988 to 1990 and then again from 1993 to 1996.
Both times she was prime minister, she was dismissed from office amid allegations of corruption. She was killed in 2007, shortly after returning to Pakistan from a self-imposed, eight-year exile to run in the country’s general elections.
Bhutto-Zardari lived most of his life in Dubai and London during his family’s exile. After his mother’s death, he was picked to serve as chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, the ruling political party.
“Our party will never fear any terrorist,” he told the crowd Thursday in Urdu, the Pakistani language that isn’t his native tongue. “Our road is the road to democracy.”
His speech had a populist tinge and a warning to his party’s enemies.
“Bhuttoism is an ideology for the poor,” he said. “You will cut our hands, but we will raise our flags. They will sew our lips, but we will chant, ‘Long live Bhutto.’ “
After the speech, President Zardari, who also has been accused of corruption, took the podium after his son spoke, beaming with pride.
“He has to learn with you. He has to learn about Pakistan, learn how to work with you, learn your thinking. And God willing, his elders and your elders are with him,” he said.
He told the crowd that Bhutto-Zardari’s “education is finished, and his training has begun.”
“The nation is yours, it is with you, we are all with you, congratulations to Bilawal and the coming generations,” he said.
One Pakistani journalist was quick to praise Bhutto-Zardari for his command of Urdu – seen as a political feat of sorts.
Hamid Mir, speaking on GEO TV, said that Bhutto-Zardari “cannot speak Urdu clearly, and this speech was very impressive because he worked very hard to spontaneously deliver the speech in perfect Urdu.”
Five years on though, the Bhutto murder case remains unresolved.
A Pakistani special prosecutor accused a court of dragging out the case against five men accused in connection with the December 27, 2007, killing of Bhutto.
“Several times, the court has rejected our request” for hearings in the case, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a special prosecutor with the Federal Investigation Agency, told CNN on Wednesday.
The five men, who were indicted by an anti-terror court, are accused of having links to Beitullah Mehsud, the late leader of the Pakistani Taliban believed to be the mastermind behind the attack on Bhutto. The men are due back in court on January 5, Ali said.
The special prosecutor has sent two letters to Interpol asking for the arrest of former President Pervez Musharraf, who has been accused of failing to protect Bhutto despite threats to her life.
Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai after leaving Pakistan in 2008. In August 2012, Pakistani authorities confiscated his property and froze his bank account. The former military ruler has denied having anything to do with Bhutto’s killing.
Bhutto survived an assassination attempt in October 2007 in Karachi during her homecoming that killed 139 people. The following December, she was killed in a gun-suicide bomb attack as she was wrapping up a campaign rally in Rawalpindi ahead of parliamentary elections.
Mehsud, the alleged architect of the attack, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August 2009 in Pakistan’s volatile Waziristan province, according to authorities. He denied being behind the attack on Bhutto, according to statements released by his spokesman shortly after the former prime minister’s killing.
But authorities said Mehsud chose a teenager from his own tribe to act as the as the suicide bomber in the attack on Bhutto.
The suicide bomber was taken to Rawalpindi by three members of the Taliban, who handed him over to two others who provided him temporary housing and gave him information on when and where Bhutto could be targeted, according to Ali, the special prosecutor.
CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.