GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH: Young Bilawal marked his entry into active politics on Thursday with a fiery speech at a large rally held here to pay homage to his mother, Benazir Bhutto, on the fifth anniversary of her assassination, while his father, President Asif Ali Zardari, reiterated his commitment to parliamentary democracy and opposition to efforts to derail it.
Bilawal’s maiden speech in Urdu appeared to have been immaculately rehearsed. He punctuated it with party slogans and recited Urdu verses with aplomb. He lashed out at forces which he said had always targeted Pakistan People’s Party and its leaders.
But neither he nor the president dwelt on the problems being faced by their voters and people at large, nor did they spell out their plans to steer the country out of the multi-dimensional crisis and improve governance if the party won another term.President Zardari, who is also PPP co-chairperson, said arrangements had been made for fair, free and transparent elections.
He said an independent chief election commissioner had been appointed and a caretaker set-up would be put in place in two/three months in consultation with the opposition.
He said: “We will not allow Egyptian model in the country. They should come and contest elections first.” Despite all odds, he said, the party’s stand was unshaken.
Mr Zardari said anyone with a ‘personal agenda’ would not be offered a seat. There was danger of a civil war in the country after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but people had seen that the PPP strengthened parliament. “We never asked for sending us in this plane or that plane.”
Referring to the Asghar Khan’s case, he said there were many questions to be answered. History will unmask more faces in days to come, adding that Benazir Bhutto had said on record that the elections referred to in the Asghar Khan’s case had been stolen.
Mr Zardari said Bilawal Bhutto had completed his education and now he “is before you and his time of training has started. From now onwards, he will remain among workers and our elders (uncles) like Yousuf Raza Gilani, who even after losing his prime ministerial office did not detach himself from the party, will stand by him. And Yousuf Raza Gilani is not like those uncles who left half way”.
He said with a track record of 12 years in jail, “we will fight back if challenged”.
The president said accommodation and tolerance were akin to bravery and “we will not indulge in politics of victimisation”.
“We have introduced a new standard of tolerance. Our message is the message of love.”
He said time would tell what the PPP-led government had done. “Decades are required to make a country. We will save democracy. All political forces want to save democracy.”
He said some internal and external forces were out to create hatred, but with the help of people and parliament, his party would make Pakistan a strong country.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is chairman of the PPP, called himself a messenger of love.
He said a product of dictators had been introduced against them. Benazir Bhutto’s way was blocked with the help of agencies and now a new player has been produced. “We will not allow them to damage democracy and the caravan will continue to march forward. Even if our hands are chopped, lips are stitched and feet are strapped, we would carry on the mission, keeping the flag high, raise slogans and move undeterred to our destination. We are afraid neither of any terrorist nor any dictator.”
He said: “We are the messengers of peace and stand by democracy. We sacrificed our lives for people while others deprived them of their right to survive.” Without naming anyone, he asked: “to what extent you will go”.
He said nobody could finish off Z. A. Bhutto and after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto every woman had become Benazir Bhutto.
He said positive thinking was an essential ingredient of politics and negative trends lead to disaster.
He criticised General Pervez Musharraf for his wrong policies about Balochistan and branded him an enemy of Baloch people.
Turning to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, he said: “Your job is to deliver justice and not to govern. “You are taking notice of the CNG crisis, Kalabagh Dam and other less important issues.”
He said people were waiting for a verdict on the Z.A Bhutto reference, but perhaps the CJ did not have time to hear it.
Bilawal said undemocratic forces and the Taliban would destroy the country in the absence of justice.
He said even after the release of a UN report about Benazir Bhutto’s murder, completion of a probe by a joint investigation team and arrest of alleged killers, the accused had not yet been punished, but the CJ had time “for the trial of Benazir Bhutto’s grave”.
Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, PPP Secretary General Jahangir Badar, Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and other party leaders also addressed the gathering.
AFP adds: More than 200,000 people gathered at the Bhutto family mausoleum to pay their respects to Benazir and to hear Bilawal Bhutto make his first major public speech.
In an impassioned speech amid tight security, Bilawal – the third generation of his family to go into politics – promised to continue the fight for the poor and against “anti-democratic forces”.
“Bhutto is an emotion, a love,” he said.
Security for Oxford-educated Bilawal was tight – surveillance helicopters hovered overhead and police said more than 15,000 officers had been deployed, as well as some 500 paramilitary troops.
At Benazir’s grave, women beat their chests and wept as they touched the tomb as a mark of respect and shouted “Long Live Bhutto” and “Bhutto was alive yesterday, Bhutto is alive today”.