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SAHIWAL: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto- Zardari on Wednesday announced his party’s support for the tenants of Okara military farms, and said that the PPP’s upcoming manifesto would centre on agriculture reforms and employment opportunities for the youth.

Addressing a large public gathering at Zafar Ali Stadium, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family had only done politics to further their business interests. “What do they know of serving the masses?” he said, adding that the Sharif family had been trained in politics by dictators during the last three-and-a-half decades.

According to various estimates, around 20,000 PPP supporters, workers and divisional and district office-bearers from surrounding districts were present at the gathering. Several PPP leaders, including Mian Manzoor Wattoo, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Syed Kursheed Shah, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Khurram Jahangir Wattoo, Samina Ghurki, Shahzad Cheema and Nadeem Afzal Chan, addressed the gathering.

Slams govt decision to build coal power plant in Sahiwal

Mr Bhutto-Zardari spoke about the problems faced by the tenants of Okara military farms, environmental pollution from the Sahiwal coal power plant, overall problems faced by small-scale farmers and how the PPP would address these issues in its manifesto for the 2018 general elections.

The PPP supported the landless tenants struggling for landownership in Okara, he said, while condemning the terrorism cases registered against the leaders of Anjuman-i-Mazareen Punjab. He stressed that ownership of the land lay with the tenants who tilled it. “The PPP will never deprive landless tenants of their right,” he said.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the recent restructuring of the Lower Bari Doab Canal and Pakpattan Canal had deprived small-scale farmers, situated at the tail end of the canal, of essential irrigation water. Farmers at the tail end of the canal water must be taken care of and they must have access to irrigation water, he said.

The PPP chairperson spoke about the need to set a support price for crops other than wheat. He said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had raised the per unit price of electricity for farmers. “The PML-N had announced [per unit charge of] Rs5 for farmers, but actually, farmers are paying Rs10 per unit of consumption.”

Lashing out at the government’s decision to construct the Sahiwal coal power plant, he said that in the future, Sahiwal would be known as “black Sahiwal” because of the environmental depredation it would cause by generating electricity through coal.

The PPP would focus on introducing agriculture reforms in its manifesto, he said. “We will introduce the Kisan Support Programme (KSP) and construct an Agriculture Support Centre (ASC).”

The support programme would ensure support price for farmers, while small-scale farmers could apply for interest-free loans to purchase agricultural inputs under the ASC, he elaborated.

The support programme would be meant for farmers who cultivated less than 20 acres of farmland, he said, adding that the PPP would also increase the budget for the Benazir Income Support Programme to help financially-distressed women.

The PML-N government had done nothing for the poor farmers of the country, he said.

The PPP leader said that Sufis had always fought against extremism, and that was the message the PPP had learned from the history of this region.

He said the upcoming manifesto would address unemployment as well. The PPP would form the government at the Centre and in the provinces, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, adding that the state would ensure employment for the youth.

Speaking at the gathering, Mr Kaira lashed out at Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan for criticising Mr Bhutto-Zardari for his youth. “Bilawal was nurtured by his mother who trained herself and learned the art of politics in the company of Z.A. Bhutto,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah blamed the PML-N for creating a confrontational situation among state institutions, and cautioned that this was not healthy for democracy or parliament.

Earlier in the afternoon, the PPP chairperson landed at Mall Mandi in a chopper. He arrived at the Zafar Ali Stadium at around 8pm where he was warmly received by PPP workers.

This is the first time in 23 years that a member of the Bhutto family has addressed a political gathering in Sahiwal city. The late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto had last addressed a gathering here in 1994.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2017