In her political debut at the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) Multan rally on Monday, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Zardari’s daughter, Asifa Bhutto-Zardari slammed the “selected” PTI-led regime, saying that it will have to be sent home.
Having braved arrests, cases and barricades, the PDM opted for an alternate venue at Ghanta Ghar Chowk, which is situated around 1km away from the original Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh Stadium venue, after the authorities dislodged opposition workers from there a night earlier.
“Despite the cruelty and oppression of the selected [government], so many of you have gathered here. This selected [government] will have to go!” Asifa said, as she joined Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and movement president Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other bigwigs of the 11-party anti-government alliance.
Asifa kept her speech short and brisk. In it, she vowed to stand by her brother, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who was convalescing due to the coronavirus, “every step of the way”.
She said those who think the Opposition will be cowed into submission are mistaken.
Asifa said that the people had announced their decision and that they wanted PM Imran Khan to “pack up and leave”.
“[Former] president Asif Zardari introduced the 18th Amendment and BISP [Benazir Income Support Programme] and fought for the people’s rights,” Asifa said.
Speaking about her mother, she said Benazir Bhutto had carried on her father’s mission — to establish a welfare state — and faced several setbacks.
She promised PPP workers that she would continue their mission and would not back down. The gathering coinded with the party’s 53rd Foundation Day.
“They think that we are afraid of arrests. If they arrest our brothers, then they should know that every woman of PPP is ready to take up the struggle,” she said.
Lahore power show to be ‘last nail in govt’s coffin’
PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman, for his part, announced nationwide protests on Friday and Sunday. He said the movement has “severed Imran Khan’s link with politics”.
He also said that the PDM’s next power show, in Lahore on December 13, “will be the last nail in the government’s coffin”.
The PDM chief said that the Opposition movement will not allow “illegitimate agents to be foisted upon the people”.
‘COVID-18 Imran country’s most lethal virus’
Maryam Nawaz spoke prior to Asifa’s address.
She said that when she entered Multan, the entire city was already transformed into a rally venue. Addressing the government, she said that because the rally venue was sealed, the people of Multan have turned the streets and the neighbourhoods of the city into the jalsa venue.
The PML-N vice-president said that when the country faces a threat, then its daughters and mothers come out on the streets to save it.
“Our misfortune is that we have an adversary who is ungracious,” Maryam said, in a veiled reference to the prime minister, whom she also referred to as “COVID-18 Imran” — the country’s “most lethal virus”.
She accused the government of being callous and not informing her timely of her grandmother Begum Shamim Akhtar’s passing. Maryam had been at a rally in Peshawar that day and said there were no mobile signals.
Maryam said that her father, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, told her to go to the people of Multan as the family’s grief pales in comparison to that of the people.
“We know the grief of losing a job,” she added. “We realise that you are saddened by a cold stove [due to low gas pressures].” She said the rising costs of electricity and gas are bringing sorrow to people’s homes.
Referring to Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar’s aide on information, Firdous Awan’s remarks on Nawaz Sharif having “parcelled” his mother’s body to Pakistan, she retorted: “My father was not playing county cricket in London.”
Maryam said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s family was not able to offer his funeral prayers after he was hanged. “Akbar Bugti was killed and his family members were not allowed to attend his funeral.”
Speaking about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, she claimed that her killers were “facilitated” and “sent abroad”.
“Could anyone keep [former president Pervez] Musharraf in jail even for a day? Does anyone have the courage to bring Musharraf back to Pakistan?” she asked.
A fire was seen in the backdrop, near the Ghanta Ghar Chowk, as Maryam spoke.
It was unclear what had caused the fire to erupt.
Rally takes place at makeshift venue
In the absence of arrangements at the original venue — Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh stadium — due to a tussle for control of the stadium between the government and the Opposition’s party workers, Multan’s Ghanta Ghar Chowk was turned into the rally venue with a makeshift stage installed.
Among other prominent politicians, PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani, who played host to the event, also spoke on the occasion. Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s (PkMAP) Mahmood Khan Achakzai was also at the chowk, as was Awami National Party’s (ANP) Mian Iftikhar.
Asifa landed in Multan Monday morning and headed straight to Gilani House. PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz had left Jati Umrah for Multan and reached the city in the late afternoon.
Accompanied by Marriyum Aurangzeb, Maryam Nawaz reached later as the movement of her convoy was hampered by the flood of people surrounding her vehicle. Both stood on the roof of the car as it crawled towards the destination.
Gilani thanks govt for containers
Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani addressed the gathering at Ghanta Ghar Chowk and said that PDM had held massives rallies in Gujranwala, Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar.
The government tried to stop this rally and despite all the hurdles, it will take place. “I would like to thank the government for providing us with containers,” he said, referring to PM Imran Khan’s promise of providing containers and food to the Opposition if they wish to hold demonstrations.
Gilani said that the PPP, in their bid to empower the people of South Punjab, had given key government positions to them, including the minister, foreign minister, governor, among others.
“[South Punjab] needs to be converted into a separate province as it is necessary for its development,” he said.
IGP allows rally
In a surprise move, Punjab Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Inam Ghani has ordered against preventing Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders from leading rallies in Multan. The police chief has also ordered removal of all barriers in the way of political workers belonging to the Opposition.
Last week, Multan administration had denied permission to hold the jalsa at at Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh Stadium citing coronavirus restrictions.
Read more: New turn in Pakistan’s political history as daughters of two former PMs to give speeches
‘Jalsa to be held, come what may’
Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other opposition leaders vowed on Sunday to go ahead with their plans of a public meeting at any cost.
Addressing a crowded press conference at Jamia Qasimul Aloom after a crucial PDM meeting in Multan, the Maulana said the government was resorting to state terrorism in the form of mass arrests, police raids and snatching the right to freedom of movement from the opposition parties.
“Enough is enough,” he had warned the government, asking it to stop the use of force against the PDM workers.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also warned the government to desist from carrying out a crackdown against PPP workers in Multan and other parts of Punjab “otherwise there will be protests in every nook and corner of the country”.
Bilawal said the Foundation Day rally will be held “anyhow” and PPP and other PDM parties “won’t be cowed down by the highhandedness of the regime”.
On Sunday, the Multan district administration, with the help of police, expelled all opposition parties’ activists from the Qasim Bagh Stadium, the public meeting venue, and put locks on its gates once again.
A day before that, the PDM parties’ activists had broken the locks and occupied the stadium despite repeated warnings from authorities to not do the same.
Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Qasim Gilani and other activists were arrested by Multan Police for defying the law and cases were registered against hundreds of opposition parties’ activists.