Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Zardari, made his first major public speech on Thursday to vast crowds gathered in Garhi Khuda Baksh to mark the fifth anniversary of his mother’s assassination.
Hundreds of thousands of people, including Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s (PPP) workers, supporters and the party’s top leadership, had congregated at the Bhutto family mausoleum near Larkana in Sindh to pay their respects to the slain leader and witness what many have termed as the launch of her son’s own political career.
“Today, I am with the martyrs at Garhi Khuda Baksh. I am with my mother and my grandmother. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto are still alive in our hearts even today,” said Bilawal.
“Bhutto is an emotion, a love,” he said. “Every challenge is soaked in blood, but you will be the loser. How ever many Bhuttos you kill, more Bhuttos will emerge from every house.”
Security was tight around the huge stage, adorned with the red, black and green tricolour of the ruling PPP, where Oxford-educated Bilawal spoke.
In an impassioned speech, Bilawal – the third generation of his family to go into politics – vowed to continue his mother’s fight for democracy, the struggle for the poor and against “anti-democratic forces”.
“There are two kinds of powers in this country: that which prefers the path of dictatorship, and then there is the power of the people…On one side we stand up as a wall against the terrorists, and then there are those who are even afraid to take their names,” said Bilawal in a passionate speech.
“We have chosen a very difficult path. Our path is the path of democracy, which Benazir taught us to walk on. We will go to the place where a bright and progressive Pakistan awaits us.”
Police said more than 15,000 officers had been deployed at the venue, as well as some 500 government paramilitary forces.
Emergence of a new Bhutto?
Benazir Bhutto, twice elected prime minister, was killed in a gun and suicide attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. No one has yet been convicted of her murder.
At her 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”.
Bilawal was just 19 when his mother was killed, and his spokesman Aijaz Durrani said Thursday’s anniversary would mark the start of a new chapter in Pakistan’s political history.
“This is his political career’s first public meeting. A new Bhutto is emerging today in the shape of Bilawal who has vision of his mother and grandfather and people are excited on his launching,” he said.
A general election is due in the spring and though the 24-year-old Bilawal will be too young to stand – the lower age limit is 25 – he could act as a figurehead for the campaign.
“Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, following in the tradition of generations, will prove to be an important turning point for democracy and politics,” Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had said in a statement.
“This journey will continue forward.”
“Trial of my mother’s grave”
Bilawal also took aim at Pakistan’s vocal Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, demanding to know why the Supreme Court could find time to deal with issues such as compressed gas and sugar prices but not punish his mother’s killers.
“I asked the top judge, can’t you see the blood of Benazir Bhutto on the roads of Rawalpindi?” Bilawal said.
“I, as an heir of Bhutto, ask why the killers of my mother have not been punished, while you have time to hold the trial of my mother’s grave.”
The ruling PPP and the judiciary have been at loggerheads for more than two years over the Supreme Court’s attempt to reopen graft cases against Benazir and her husband President Asif Ali Zardari.
The PPP regards the efforts as tantamount to putting the dead former prime minister on trial.
Bilawal, who has been co-chairman of the PPP with his father since Benazir’s death, in May accused former military ruler Pervez Musharraf of “murdering” his mother by deliberately sabotaging her security.
A UN report in 2010 also said the murder could have been prevented and accused Musharraf’s government of failing to properly protect Bhutto.
The Musharraf regime blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who denied any involvement and was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009.