The protest, called the "Million March" and organised by a UK-based group to demand a just and peaceful resolution of longstanding Kashmir issue as well as protesting against India’s human rights violations there, fizzled out as only a few hundred people gathered to wave placards and flags as they walked from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street.
As Mr Zardari stepped on to a makeshift stage to speak, the crowd began to jeer and threw empty plastic bottles at him, refusing to let him speak.
"This march was to be about Kashmir and for the welfare of Kashmiris. Bilawal has no business being here," said a group of angry protesters who had travelled from Derby in the East Midlands region of England.
The march was led by Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry, whose supporters call him a former prime minister of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), and was supported by British parliamentarian Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham.
During the protest officers from the London Metropolitan Police took into custody Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s nephew, Hasan Niazi, and some other party supporters when they reportedly started throwing water bottles at Zardari. They also shouted “Go Nawaz Go” and “Go Bilawal Go” slogans and was using the event as his personal political launch pad.
Niazi says he was briefly detained by the UK police after the incident, according to a tweet from his official account. “I was detained for a little while but then released - nothing serious. I protested bcz #babychicken misused the stage #KashmiriMillionMarch,” Niazi tweeted.
Following the incident, Bilawal’s sister Aseefa Bhutto Zardari tweeted that her brother is safe and alleged that Indian agents tried to stop him from speaking but they did not succeed. “Indian agents tried to stop my brother from speaking but Alhamdulillah they did NOT succeed. He completed his speech & Alhamdulillah he is safe,” Aseefa tweeted.
According to a statement from Bilawal House in Karachi, “some unidentified people tried to disrupt the party chief’s speech at the Kashmir rally but he faced the unruly mob with bravery and completed his address to the participants”.
Commenting on the incident, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz lashed out at the PTI in a tweet, saying that several people belonging to a certain family were involved in hooliganism against rival parties. She also confirmed that Hasan Niazi was involved in the incident in London.
Meanwhile, some unconfirmed reports said that some “Indians” had attempted to sabotage Bilawal’s speech. The information could not be independently verified.
Bilawal had recently created quite a stir in the Indian media when he lashed out at the Indian occupation of Kashmir, saying Kashmir is and would always be Pakistan’s part.
“Lavangey lavangey poora Kashmir lavangey. Humara nara sab se bhari, Rai shumari Rai shumari,” Bilawal said in a tweet before his address.
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.
India has made it clear to Britain that such events provide opportunities to some groups to impede UK-India relations and 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.
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, Dr Virander Paul, India's deputy high commissioner to UK, 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”.