Bilawal Bhutto attacked at London march

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Oct 27, 2014 10:20 IST

Pakistan’s internal political divisions overshadowed a march to highlight the Jammu and Kashmir issue on Sunday as an angry section of the crowd pelted Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto with plastic bottles, shoes and cans as soon as he came on the dais.

Angry that Bhutto was allegedly using the event as his political launch pad, the angry mob shouted slogans against him and his father, Asif Ali Zardari, and attacked him, prompting the London police to whisk him away from the dais at Trafalgar Square.

The attackers were alleged to be supporters of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf. Slogans against Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were also heard.

The attack on Bhutto soon led to a separate hashtag #BhagBilloBhag, as people tweeted their joy at his retreat as well as anger at the event being politicised.

As many expressed their frustration at the turn of events, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference submitted a memorandum to Britain seeking an early resolution to the Jammu and Kashmir issue at the end of a march.

The march covering the short distance from Trafalgar Square to 10 Downing Street was billed as a ‘Million March’, but its strength was nowhere near that mark. People had travelled from several cities in Britain for the event marked by placards with anti-India slogans.

The march was said to be organised and led by Sultan Mahmood Choudhry, former prime minister of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, and drew participation from leaders of other parties such as Bilawal Bhutto of Pakistan People’s Party and leaders of Muttahida Quami Movement and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.

India has made it clear to Britain that such events provide opportunities to some groups to impede UK-India relations.

India had objected to Britain allowing the march during the recent visit of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, but London had reiterated its commitment to freedom of speech as well as its reassurance that it was for India and Pakistan to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue, without third party intervention, least of all by Britain.

"With that reassurance, we are quite comfortable of any march being organised, be it the so-called million march because we, as I said, are country of a billion. Millions do not overawe us," ministry of external affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

The APHC led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq briefly recounted the state's history, mentioned allegations against India and said in the memorandum that the people of Jammu & Kashmir should be allowed the right of self-determination in the same way that the people of Scotland, East Timor and Southern Sudan had enjoyed it.

Unlike previous years, when such anti-India events here led to much concern in Indian quarters, there was a quiet confidence that India need not be overly rattled by them, beyond formally making known concerns. This approach was also evident during the 11 September debate on Jammu and Kashmir in the House of Commons.

India has made it clear to Britain that such events provide opportunities to some groups to impede UK-India relations.

In a significant intervention, Varinder Paul, India's deputy high commissioner, had recently sounded a cautionary note on Indo-UK relations before a London audience comprising Business secretary Vince Cable.

Paul had said: “From time to time, we find that there are certain tendencies in certain sections of the society, which are not in the interest of our strong relations. We need to watch out and be mindful of any such efforts. We should not allow any such tendencies to succeed. And this is our shared responsibility”.

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