Leaders of the 11-party opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Sunday gathered in Larkana on the occasion of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's 13th death anniversary for another power show as part of its anti-government protests.
In his address to the mammoth public meeting, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the opposition had united on PDM's platform to rescue the country from the government's alleged inefficiencies and will together make efforts to end "the business of selected and selection".
He said the PPP leadership, from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir, had sacrificed their lives but refused to compromise on their principles.
"Today we have to vow to fulfil Benazir Bhutto's promise and save Pakistan," he said, adding that the country envisioned by the PPP leaders was one where the Constitution ruled and everyone had equal rights.
He said due to the government's "anti-people" policies, millions of people were forced to live below the poverty line and people couldn't afford two meals a day, while youngsters were desperate to find jobs.
"The rulers neither see your poverty nor your unemployment nor the storm of inflation," the PPP leader said. "This puppet cannot provide bread and employment to people and says 'I won't leave anyone.'
"But now the people fed up of unemployment, poverty and inflation will not leave this puppet, oppressor and selected."
Bilawal said he could not accept the country in its current state as a democracy "where there is no freedom of speech, writing, doing rallies and protesting peacefully".
"Enough has happened. If this government is given more time they will wreck the country and we won't let it happen. These selected rulers will also be in the wastebasket of history like Musharraf and Gen Zia."
He said the PTI government had taken historic loans from international donors but the funds didn't cause any benefit to the common man.
"Now this game will end. The business of selected and selection will end," he said, adding that the provinces were not being given their due share under the National Finance Commission Award.
Bilawal said the PPP wanted the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to succeed but only in a way that benefitted locals. "We don't desire a CPEC that only benefits the Papa John's [pizza owners]," he emphasised, in a reference to the controversy over CPEC Authority chairman retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa's family assets.
He said the PPP had linked its foundations to the PDM's objectives, adding: "We have become one. We are on one page and one stage and we will make these puppets run away with your support."
Bilawal reiterated that if Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to resign by January 31, the opposition would stage a long march to Islamabad.
'Your war is not with PDM'
While addressing the rally, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz once again hit out at the government over inflation and allegedly hiding behind the establishment, telling Prime Minister Imran he was not fighting the PDM but the entire population of Pakistan.
"Your war is not with PDM but with the 220 million people of Pakistan whom you have struck like lightning," she said while addressing the premier, adding that the people had "won" this war.
Maryam said when Bilawal was unable to attend the PDM rally in Mardan, Prime Minister Imran was "jumping around with elation" believing there had been a rift within the opposition. She alleged he will say the same about today's rally which JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman did not attend.
Recalling that the prime minister had dismissed her and Bilawal as "kids", the PML-N leader said: "These kids are half your age but they are turning you around their little finger [and] have given you sleepless nights."
She alleged that whenever these "kids" called him out, Prime Minister Imran hid behind his "elders" and asked them to rescue him.
"These kids' biggest qualification is that the people of Pakistan are standing with them," she said, adding that the premier's alleged dream of creating a rift within the PDM "will never be fulfilled".
The PML-N leader paid tribute to Benazir's struggle for democracy, recalling that the Charter of Democracy signed by her father Nawaz Sharif and Benazir "wasn't just a few pieces of paper; this was a decision for turning the course of Pakistan's political history that I, Bilawal and all of Pakistan's political leadership will take forward and advance".
She said when the PPP government was formed in 2008, many elements wanted it to be brought down but Nawaz "crushed that suggestion even within his own party" and favoured allowing the government to complete its tenure.
"When political parties started completing their terms, some forces to whom 'divide and rule' suited started getting restless. Then we saw [former ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja] Pasha set up a party by collecting political trash named the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, and that party was then used in dharnas and conspiracies against your elected government," Maryam alleged.
She said while politicians were given death sentences and faced character assassinations, those who committed much severer offences such as "breaking the country and the Constitution, losing Siachen and the Kashmir cause, violating one's oath to interfere in politics, having political rivals killed, and committing corruption worth billions" were not held accountable.
"But remember, ideology cannot be hanged or exiled," she added.
Accusing former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf of being "the murderer of the Constitution and of Benazir Bhutto", she said no one even talked about bringing him back to the country.
"The court that sentenced Musharraf to death [in the high treason case] was hanged itself," Maryam alleged.
She said although Musharraf could not return to the country, the "brave decision" of the judge who led the bench that handed guilty verdict to him, late Peshawar High Court chief justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, to uphold the Constitution "will not only be remembered by the Pakistani people but also kept alive".
Maryam also thanked the people of Sindh for their hospitality and Bilawal and his family members for welcoming her early in the morning at their residence in Naudero.
Earlier this month, Bilawal had directly contacted leaders of parties in the PDM to invite them to attend the rally at Garhi Khuda Bux in Larkana.
Maryam Nawaz arrived in the province a day earlier while a delegation from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) is also participating in the rally.
Leaders of the PDM member parties were present on the stage at the rally venue, with a large crowd of supporters and PDM workers waving flags in the audience.
TV footage earlier showed large crowds going towards the mausoleum where Benazir is buried next to her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to pay their respects.
Govt has 'little time left': Zardari
While addressing the rally virtually, former president and PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari said today was a day of 'red salute', adding that while Benazir had passed away on this day, she had left the message for her party to keep fighting for the country.
He said the PTI government was unable to run the country and would remain so. "These aren't the people who run a country, they are the ones who run a cricket team, " he added.
Zardari said in his tenure, he had joined his political rivals in order to "complete the Constitution" but now the country's exports had fallen and the dollar had seen a steep rise.
"I want to ask you not to worry so much; they have little time left. They will fall due to their own weight," the PPP leader told the crowd.
He said while he was not afraid of jails, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was running a "black market" and issuing warrants for businessmen. The PPP did not have a single political prisoner during its government, he added.
"Could anyone have thought that Musharraf would be yearning to come to Pakistan but he cannot?" Zardari said.
He added that history was witness to the fact that "whenever you have done anything against democracy, eventually the loss was of the country."
"You will come and go, you have no importance. Like the party Musharraf formed came to an end, this party too will end," he said without naming anyone.
Zardari said Prime Minister Imran should quit "if you accept yourself you are unable to run the country". He asked the premier to hold fresh elections and see for whom the people stood.
"Everyone is hoping that one day Bhutto's party will come into power and we will prosper [again]," he said, adding that the PPP had kept inflation under control despite financial crises.
The former president said he wanted all parties to unite on one page "but we shouldn't dictate each other what to do. Learn something from us well; I may have experience of doing those things in the past.
"I ousted a general like a fly out of milk, so we can bring down Imran Khan as well but we need to change the mindset and methodology," he said, adding that the opposition will have to "fill up the jails".
'United under PDM'
Speaking at the rally earlier in the day, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) leader Awais Noorani said the PDM's fight was "simple" and that it wanted all institutions to operate within their domains.
"We don't want to fight anyone. Stay within your limits and let people make their decisions," he said without naming anyone, adding that the PDM wanted free and fair elections.
Noorani said an election will be held "soon" and asked PDM workers to prepare for it in order to win back their mandate.
In his speech, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai said today's gathering carried a special meaning because all of Pakistan's political parties "which the establishment set against each other" had joined hands.
"This is God's blessing that Pakistan's parties which used to do who knows what against each other, today are united and agreed and gathered under PDM's [banner]," he said.
Achakzai said the opposition didn't set up the PDM "for our own sake" and that it wanted everyone to adhere to the Constitution. "Democracy is the fountainhead of our political power," he added.
Awami National Party leader Ameer Haider Khan Hoti paid tribute to Benazir's political struggles, saying she knew of the threats facing her but returned to Pakistan to fight with courage before being martyred.
"Today it was said here that by martyring her, an attempt was made to break the chain of Pakistan; that chain was not destroyed, Bilawal did not allow that chain to break. You can see all of Pakistan is present here today," he said.
Hoti also thanked PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari for "guiding" him while the latter was the president, saying: "When it was our government [in KP], Zardari sahib never saw me as a chief minister of the ANP [but] he saw me as his own chief minister."
JUI-F's Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri lashed out at the government, saying ministers were busy in the character assassination of opposition members.
"We have never seen cowardly leaders like them. They don't have a majority in Pakistan [and] they have brought the country to the brink of destruction. Due to their policies investors are running away," he said.
"They talk about democracy and aren't even ashamed that their ministers are engaged in character assassination of opposition day and night."
Haideri vowed that the PDM will not rest until "sending this puppet, showpiece, inept, selected government home".
Opposition pursuing self-serving agenda: Shibli
In a series of tweets on Sunday morning, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said the opposition had nothing to offer to the people as they were only interested in pursuing their self-serving agenda, APP reported.
"Today, the souls of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and [Benazir Bhutto] Shaheed must be suffering as the worst critics of their philosophy and ideology are sitting in their home," he wrote.
The minister said Maryam's visit to Larkana spoke volumes about the historical reality of “fighting from the outside, siblings on the inside”.
"Those who used to talk about dragging each other on the roads of Lahore and Larkana have become each other's guests now," he added.
"This is their reality. They have one appearance in front of the people and another behind them."
'Honour to attend Benazir's anniversary'
Earlier today, PDM leaders including Bilawal, Maryam, Achakzai and Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) President Sardar Akhtar Mengal had lunch at Naudero House from where they left for Garhi Khuda Bux.
Speaking to reporters before leaving for Sukkur on Saturday, Maryam said she was "very happy that I am going to Benazir Bhutto" on her death anniversary. "She gave her life bravely for this country. It is an honour for me to attend her anniversary," the PML-N vice president said.
She said that the Charter of Democracy given to the nation by Benazir and her father Nawaz Sharif changed history and now she, Bilawal, and all leaders of the PDM would take it forward.
However, JUI-F chief and PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman declined the invitation to attend the rally citing other engagements.
Sources said the maulana would not participate because the anniversary programme was not a declared public meeting of PDM.
Instead, a five-member delegation of the party comprising Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Abdul Raziq Abid Lakho, Maulana Siraj Ahmad Shah Amroti, Maulana Saud Afzal and Maulana Abdullah Mehr would participate in the anniversary, Maulana Rashid Mehmood Soomro, general secretary of JUI-F Sindh, had told Dawn.
Speaking to the media ahead of his departure for Garhi Khuda Bux, Maulana Haideri said Maulana Fazl did "not have any grievance with Bilawal or PPP". If he had any grievance, he would not have sent his delegation either, Haideri added.
"Everyone has their schedule and obligations. If Bilawal did not come to Mardan, this cannot be called his grievance," he said.
Bilawal himself arrived in Naudero on Friday, two days ahead of the scheduled programme, while his aunt MPA Faryal Talpur was already there to supervise arrangements, sources said earlier.
Additional reporting by Mohammad Hussain and Ubaidullah Sheikh.