Touchdown: Zardari lands in Pakistan after 18 months in self-imposed ‘exile’

Former president and Co-Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari returned Friday to Pakistan in a private jet from Dubai.

Touchdown: Zardari lands in Pakistan after 18 months in self-imposed 'exile'

Touchdown: Zardari lands in Pakistan after 18 months in self-imposed ‘exile’

Addressing supporters upon his return, he said, “I remember the day when Bibi (Benazir Bhutto) came here and you were here to welcome her. Bibi is [still] here with us, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is [also] here with us.”

“There is a lot of dismay at the moment in the country but I do not have a plan of despair. I have brought the message of hope,” he added.

“Pakistan is a nation that has overcome all challenges. Pakistan is not a country of terrorists,” the former president said.

Zardari addresses supporters after his arrival in Pakistan.

“It does not matter who is in power today. It matters who will lead us tomorrow,” he said, assuring his supporters that PPP will be in power again.

“I want to send a message to all political actors in this country ─ We may occasionally leave the country, but we will always be buried in its soil,” the co-chairman of PPP said.

“Those taking credit for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) seemed to have forgotten who the architect for the plan was,” he said, adding that CPEC is not just a road but a much more comprehensive development project.

According to media reports, Zardari left for Bilawal House, the PPP headquarters in Karachi, after the speech in a helicopter.

Zardari returned to Pakistan after abruptly leaving the country in June last year following a hard-hitting speech, in which he lashed out at the military establishment for overstepping its domain.

He was accompanied on his return by political stalwarts Babar Awan, Rehman Malik and seven others.

Zardari met Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at the waiting lounge of the old Jinnah terminal before making his public appearance.

Zardari consults with his party leaders upon arrival at the old Jinnah terminal.

Read more: Return of Zardari

Zardari flew in on chartered flight PTP-555 from the Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai.

Senior party leader Nisar Khuro and other party stalwarts waited outside the airport to welcome Zardari in the truck used by slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto in her historic Oct 18, 2007 rally.

Zardari later delivered a speech from the same truck.

Special truck for Asif Ali Zardari

Stringent security measures were taken in preparation. Party workers provided the bulk of the security, but between 5,000 and 6,000 police officers had also been deployed in the area.

Officers of the Special Branch and Bomb Disposal Squad were also engaged.

The celebrations are expected to continue into the evening as party workers have been spotted putting up lights.

PPP supporters enthusiastic about Zardari’s return

PPP supporters, some of whom had travelled from cities across the province, waited for hours to hear their leader speak.

According to reports, people travelled on busses from Larkana, Nawabshah and Jamshoro. Some also arrived from Karachi’s Orangi Town, Malir and Lyari areas.

Zafar Cheema, a resident of Gujranwala in Punjab, said, “This [the PPP] is the oldest party, this is our party,” while speaking to Dawn.

“No matter what problems we have, we will support this party,” he added.

Mohammad Sharif, who travelled from Kotri, Jamshoro to be part of the celebrations, told Dawn, “I’m here to attend the jalsa because my family always voted for the PPP.

“This party is the only one representing us right now. They built roads in our area and reduced electricity shortage,” he said.

Zafar Cheema holds a poster of Benazir Bhutto with her son Bilawal Bhutto. ─Saher Baloch

However, when asked if he had any expectation from Zardari’s speech today, he replied: “We don’t have expectations from anyone anymore.”

Mohammad Nattha, a resident of Safoora Goth, expressed his support for the party while speaking with Dawn.

“I have nothing to do with Zardari. I’m here because of my affiliation with the flag and party.”

“I have never asked the party for anything. And I won’t. I believe they’ll take care of my needs,” he added.

Gamraj Narayan, a guitarist by profession, said, “I want the party to start thinking of the poor.”

“People like us who only have their support to give to them but mostly get ignored when it comes to their needs.”

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