GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH: President Asif Ali Zardari used the fourth anniversary of his wife Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on Tuesday to ensure supporters he would not resign in the face of numerous crises building around him and to take a jab at the Supreme Court.
Addressing a huge crowd comprising tens of thousands of supporters at the Bhutto family mausoleum at Garhi Khuda Baksh, the president asked the apex court about the as yet unsolved case of Benazir’s assassination. “People ask what happened to Benazir Bhutto’s case,” he said. “I ask (Chief Justice) Iftikhar Chaudhry: what happened to Benazir Bhutto’s case?”
The president said the chief justice took up petitions against the government but was not paying heed to the petition he had sent to him to seeking to revisit the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case. He said further that some cases were visible to the chief justice, others were not.
“The things that are against our prestige are important in your view,” he said. Zardari said the best way to pay tribute to slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on the fourth anniversary of her assassination was to foil anti-democratic conspiracies. He vowed to protect the system, disallowing the federation’s split.“We will fight any evil eye that is a threat to the federation, but our way will be that of Aung San Suu Kye,” said the president, referring to the Burmese leader known across the world for her struggle for democracy.
Zardari, speaking from behind bulletproof glass and appearing relaxed and healthy, said he had spent many years behind bars but his love for democracy remained firm and steadfast. He said further that his party would continue to fight undemocratic forces but would do so following democratic norms. “We will fight for democracy, not seats,” said the president.
Zardari said democracy was new to the country and needed time to mature and get to the point where it should be. He said those who said democracy was in place must know that the spirit of democracy would take time to take hold.
“Democracy with all its qualities will take time and sacrifices, which we are willing to make,” he said. “Let us on this day rededicate ourselves to the democratic mission of… Benazir Bhutto whose life was dedicated to fighting dictatorship and those seeking to defame and dismantle democratic institutions,” the president said. He said her assassination was a conspiracy to rid the world of its best weapon to combat international violent extremism. It was a conspiracy to rob Pakistan of its best hope to establish a fully functional democracy, he added.
He declared himself completely fit, saying he wanted to make history, not headlines, in the media. The embattled president, who has recently been under treatment in Dubai after the memogate controversy surfaced, seemed very energetic during his rare speech as he sought to stand behind his prime minister.“Tailor-made democracies don’t work. I don’t pay heed to anyone except Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, as he represents parliament,” he said. He praised Gilani for remaining steadfast and said he stood by him. He said those who were now jumping fences did not have any significant achievements to their credit. “Is this to derail real democracy, or an attempt to bring in some dictator?” he questioned.
“You would not find Yousaf Raza Gilani stumbling at any stage,” the president said. He added that though in terms of protocol, Gilani reported to him, but in fact the prime minister was the leader of all. He said all forces were under parliament and he always listened to the prime minister because he represented the federation and was a representative of the people through parliament. The president said he decided to hand over all powers to the prime minister as he wanted to nurture Pakistan’s nascent democracy. He asked the people and the party workers to remain steadfast and not to be deterred by temporary challenges. “Democracy can deliver and will deliver,” he said and asked how much time had been given to the nascent democracy. “It will take time for it to flourish,” he added.
He said the chapter of Benazir assassination had reopened after former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s book surfaced. The president said he wanted to address the miseries of the Baloch people. “I want to resolve the matters within the parameters of the federation,” he said. “If the Baloch want to fight, they should learn from us how to fight,” he said. The president said in the same context that he gave an identity to the Pakhtuns and no one could take it back for centuries to come.Zardari also took a swipe at the media, targeting TV talk shows in particular. He said he had advised his political leaders, party men and activists not to attend TV talk shows, which he said pitched politicians against each other.
He also favoured a separate province in South Punjab and said “the people seek their rights from the Takht-e-Lahore (Throne of Lahore)”, referring to the Punjab government. President Zardari also said Pakistan had decided not to be part of any international war game. “We have decided not to join any ‘theatre of war’ that has nothing to do with us,” he said, adding that trade would rather be the top priority of Pakistan with the international community. The president also said Asefa, his daughter, would carry forward the legacy of Benazir Bhutto. The death anniversary came the same day the Supreme Court began deliberations on whether it could open its own investigation into the memogate scandal.
Zardari struck a defiant note, but noticeably refrained from attacking the military establishment at the rally. Tens of thousands of people gathered at Bhutto’s mausoleum on Tuesday, converging outside the heavily guarded perimeter of the compound to pay their respects, beating their chests and demanding that her killers be arrested. Around 6,000 policemen, hundreds of paramilitary officers, electronic gates, aerial surveillance and sniffer dogs were ensuring security, said police.
“We want revenge. Arrest Benazir’s killers,” the mourners chanted, carrying party flags and photographs of Bhutto, eulogising her and her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also appealed for democracy to prevail in an editorial written in a local English-language newspaper. – PT