Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday lashed out at the government for removing more than 800,000 beneficiaries from the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), terming the move a grave cruelty on part of the government.
Speaking at a public gathering held to observe former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's death anniversary at Liaquat Bagh — the venue of her assassination — in Rawalpindi, Bilawal said the country was in danger and it was the duty of his party "to complete the mission of Benazir Bhutto".
"Benazir was a chain that united the federation of Pakistan, but this was not acceptable to her enemies," he added.
"Look at the state of this democracy. The parliament is locked, media is not free, there are attacks on the 18th amendment, the judiciary is not free," lamented the PPP chairman. "Terrorists may have been defeated but extremism is present all over the country," he added.
Recounting the struggles of his mother, Bilawal said, "Every street of Rawalpindi, all its walls and buildings and its land bear witness to what happened to Benazir".
"You people are witnesses to the atrocities faced by Bhutto. You are witnesses to how people's rule was ended. You are witnesses to the atrocities faced by jiyalas (party workers)".
Bilawal said Benazir continued the struggle of her father, confronted two dictators, faced 'selected' politicians and extremists but despite all that she "provided rights to women, freed the media and prisoners and also got missile technology for the country".
The PPP chairman said his mother had come back to Pakistan to establish awaami raj (people's rule) in the country once again but on "December 27th she addressed her last political gathering at this very ground".
"From one family, the father, two sons and then the daughter was also martyred."
Bilawal vowed to restore people's rule in the country once again. "Rawalpindi, bear witness for I will restore the power of the public, give rights to the youth and proper compensation to farmers for their efforts."
"I will continue the struggle of [Zulfikar] Bhutto and complete the mission of Benazir."
Before Bilawal came to address the crowd, PPP co-chairman and former president, Asif Ali Zardari, also addressed the gathering via a video message that was broadcast on a giant screen at the venue.
Speaking from a hospital bed, Zardari criticised the government for leading the country into its current political and economic situation. He said the present ruling regime "has nothing to do with the problems being faced by the country's poor".
He expressed hope that PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto will be able to solve these problems very soon and "will lead the nation".
Earlier, PPP leaders Raza Rabbani, Qaim Ali Shah, Murad Ali Shah, Aitzaz Ahsan, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf addressed the rally.
Ahead of today's event, the venue and roads leading to Liaquat Bagh were decorated with PPP flags and pictures of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir and Bilawal.
More than 50,000 seats were arranged at the venue.
Court allows rally at Liaquat Bagh
The Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court on Thursday directed the district administration to provide all facilities and security for the event. Additionally, PPP has also made its own security arrangements.
Additionally, the court directed the district administration and police to provide Bilawal with adequate security upon his arrival in the city.
PPP had announced the rally at Liaquat Bagh. However, the district administration refused to give the party permission, citing security threats to Bilawal.
PPP city president Babar Sultan Jadoon immediately filed a petition in the LHC through his legal team challenging the decision of the district government. Yesterday, the LHC granted the party permission to hold the public meeting.
Senior party leader Sherry Rehman visited the site and inspected the arrangements ahead of today's event.
"After 12 years, the PPP is holding a public meeting and it is an attempt to dispel the perception that the party would not be able to arrange a jalsa in Rawalpindi," she said.
"It will be a sad moment for Bilawal Bhutto to visit the site where his mother was assassinated. It will also be difficult for all jialays (diehard party workers) to gather at the site and recall the tragic day."