Former president Asif Ali Zardari returned to Pakistan on Friday after 18 months in self-imposed exile, promising supporters of his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that it would again rule the country.
Addressing supporters atop the same truck that had carried his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, when she returned from exile in 2007, Zardari also said the Pakistani flag has become the symbol of freedom for Kashmiris. “Kashmir will become part of Pakistan,” he said.
Zardari abruptly left Pakistan in June last year after a hard-hitting speech that criticised the military establishment for overstepping its domain, thereby offending it. Since then, he had divided his time between his homes in Dubai and London.
The PPP chief’s phone call to the new army chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa, had paved the way for his homecoming, The Express Tribune newspaper reported.
Zardari told PPP workers he had brought hope, not despair, with him. His programme would give Pakistanis new hope as there is a sense of despair in the country, he said. His son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, was part of the large crowd that welcomed him at Karachi airport.
At the airport! pic.twitter.com/QHioSUSzhO— BilawalBhuttoZardari (@BBhuttoZardari) December 23, 2016
“Pakistan is secure with the efforts of the masses and the armed forces and will never face failure,” Zardari said.
He said his critics had accused him of running away from the country even when he was the president. “I want to tell them that we (PPP leaders) will be buried in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh,” he said, referring to the village in Sindh province where Benazir Bhutto and other members of the Bhutto family are buried.
He expressed happiness at the thriving democracy and democratic culture in Pakistan. “We will keep moving forward with the spirit of democracy and as only democracy has the solution for Pakistan’s problems,” he said.
A rally planned for Zardari was cancelled by the PPP at the last moment because of security concerns.
The massive rally organised by the PPP to mark Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile in October 2007 was targeted by two suicide bombers, resulting in the death of 140 people. She was later assassinated in another suicide attack in Rawalpindi two months later.