Zardari vows to defend democracy
GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH: Embattled President Asif Ali Zardari has vowed to defend the Constitution and said he would not allow anyone to damage the federation.
The speech was seen by political analysts as a move to bring down the political temperature since it avoided any reference to the military leadership or the memo case – issues that have taken tensions between the PPP-led government and the army top brass to a new high.
Addressing a large public gathering at the mausoleum of Benazir Bhutto on the fourth anniversary of her assassination on Tuesday, the president said he would not resign in the face of numerous crises.
“We want to live in history and not in headlines. We have left politics to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and members of his cabinet.”
He said he was determined to fight for democracy, but in a democratic manner. “We will fight any evil eye that is a threat to the federation, but our way will be that of Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s democracy leader).”
The president said all his steps would be under the Constitution which, he claimed, had been restored by his government.
Wearing a Sindhi cap, he told an emotionally-charged crowd that he was son of the soil and could feel the pain of this land.
President Zardari said all forces were under parliament and said he always listened to the prime minister because he represented the federation and the nation.
He said he had decided to hand over all powers to the prime minister because he wanted to see democracy flourishing. He asked the PPP workers to remain steadfast and not to be deterred by temporary challenges.
He said he would never let his people fight or sacrifice for his sake. “We will fight for democracy and not fight for seats.”
The president said only real democracy could deliver and warned that attempts were being made to introduce “tailor-made democracies”.
Those who were jumping ship did not have any significant achievements to their credit, he said, adding: “Is this to derail real democracy, or an attempt to bring in some dictator. Democracy can deliver and will deliver. How much time has been given to a nascent democracy; it will take time for it to flourish.”
The president praised Prime Minister Gilani for remaining steadfast and said he stood by him. Although protocol-wise, Mr Gilani reported to him, the prime minister was the leader of all, Mr Zardari said. “You will not find Mr Gilani stumble at any stage.”
The president said four personalities of the Bhutto family had sacrificed their precious lives and because of this he was able to stand in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh and face this “mammoth crowd”. He vowed to strive for their rights, but said it was not an easy job.
Mr Zardari said his daughter Aseefa Bhutto would be the flag-bearer and start her journey from the place where it was dropped by her slain mother in Rawalpindi to carry on the family tradition of serving people.
The president said the PPP was not a hereditary party, but added that the country had no leader after the death of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. “Politics is art of the possible, but making a nation is the art of impossible and what I am doing is the art of impossible.”
He said he had given an identity to the Pakhtuns and no one could take back this identity for centuries to come. This land suffered many pains beginning from Sardar Nouroz Khan.
The president appealed to the ‘angry’ Balochs to come down from mountains and said he wanted to help the people of Balochistan and end their problems, but it would have to be done within the framework of the federation.
“We have spent years in jails,” he said while referring to six years’ imprisonment of Prime Minister Gilani and 12 years’ of his own.
The president supported the demand for a separate province in south Punjab and said: “The people seek their rights from Takht-i-Lahore (rulers of Punjab).” In a jab at the Supreme Court, which has taken up the memo case, he referred to the 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.”
He regretted that the case was still pending with courts, but it had yet to get their attention. Mr Zardari said he had not pursued an investigation by the United Nations because it did not question former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. He said he would write an article in Washington Post and raise questions over it.
The president said he had not talked directly to people and shared with them his thoughts for days. And then he waved a copy of PPP manifesto and said he was proud to announce that 80 per cent of it had been achieved.
He said there was a recession all over the world, but food was available to the people of Pakistan despite two huge floods.
“Pakistan’s food stores are sill full and no one is hungry in the country.”
The president said Pakistan had decided not to be part of any new “great game”. “We have decided not to join any ‘theatre of war’ which has nothing to do with us,” he said, adding that trade would be a top priority.
Pakistan would enter into trade pacts with other countries of its choice, and not at the behest of any other country. “Your own economies are in trouble. Should I care for the children of my country or look after your interests?” the president said, posing
a question to the international community.
President Zardari stressed the need for new trade blocs with regional countries, including China, Russia and Central Asian states. He clarified that these would not be blocs of aggression but of mutual trade.
He said he had introduced the concept of barter trade because of a recession across the world. Pakistan had signed agreements with Turkey and China for mutual benefit, he added.
About the financial crisis in PIA, the president asked its union leaders to consult experts on the issue before raising hue and cry over it. He pointed to the objection raised against the proposed code-sharing of PIA with Turkish Airlines and said the idea could prove beneficial for the national-flag carrier. President Zardari dismissed rumours about his medical fitness and said he was medically fit, though he suffered a muscle strain. “It was said that I am medically out. I am not medically out, but yes just like you pulled a muscle, maybe my muscle was also pulled,” he said.
Announcing the end of boycott of a TV channel, the president said PPP leaders would now attend only those talk shows where the compere sat with one politician and the anchor was not dictated from behind the curtain. “Inviting persons of different ideas in one show, you (channels) are doing insult to them. It is not a service to democracy, but an attempt to weaken it.”
In an unusual gesture which surprised many, President Zardari invited senior PPP leader Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan to address the gathering after his speech.
Observers saw the move as a signal to pre-empt his possible departure from the party.
Mr Ahsan touched on issues being faced by the common man, including price hike, gas and electricity loadshedding.
Tens of thousands of people and party workers and supporters from across the country and Azad Kashmir attended the public meeting. They were made to enter the meeting place only through two gates. Vehicles were stopped about one kilometre from the mausoleum on Naudero-Ratodero road.
Big screens were installed for the public to watch the addresses. The meeting continued under aerial surveillance. More than 7,000 Rangers and police personnel were deployed for security. Others who addressed the meeting included AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro and PPP (Balochistan chapter) president Sadik Umrani.