Return to assembly to avoid ‘being victimized’, PTI told

The leaders of two major political parties on Tuesday urged Imran Khan to return to parliament, saying that his and his party’s salvation lay in representing the citizens who had elected them.

But in the same breath, both Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Chaudhry Shujaat Huss­ain warned Mr Khan that if he persisted on his current course, they would neither be able to save him, nor would it benefit the country.

In separate statements on Tuesday, both leaders stressed the need for all parties to work together to rescue Pakistan from the economic and political dire straits that the country finds itself in.

“You are a stranger to the house. Come back and play your role in the parliament. Let’s talk about reforms, whether it is the National Accountability Bureau or elections,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said during an address at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, adding that otherwise, the government would not be able to stop those who wanted to “victimise you”.

“If he calls himself a politician and a democrat, he has to sit in parliament and do his job.”

Meanwhile, speaking at an event in Islamabad, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said that the constituents who had elected Mr Khan and his party were observing the actions of their representatives, adding that not coming to the assembly and collecting salaries and perks would not accomplish anything.

Verification attempts

The remarks from both leaders came as Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers attempted to gain an audience with the National Assembly speaker for the personal verification of their resignations from the lower house of parliament.

However, since Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was in Garhi Khuda Buksh to participate in the event held to mark the 15th death anniversary of slain PPP leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, it was resolved that a delegation of senior PTI leaders would call on the speaker soon after his return.

A spokesperson for the NA Secretariat confirmed that former PTI chief whip Malik Amir Dogar contacted the speaker via telephone on Tuesday, a move that was hailed by the speaker, who welcomed the gesture and said that “the dialogue process should continue”.

The spokesperson said Mr Dogar requested a formal meeting to deliberate upon the issue of confirmation of resignations of 124 PTI members of the National Assembly.

Mr Dogar told the NA speaker that a delegation of PTI leaders consisting of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pervez Khattak and others wanted to meet him.

But PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry told journalists in Lahore that when party leaders called on Mr Ashraf today, he was “nowhere to be found”.

“[We were] told that the speaker has gone to Larkana,” Fawad claimed. “We’re getting information that he’s going to Australia afterwards.”

“I want to tell the speaker that tendering resignations is our constitutional right,” the PTI leader said, adding that Mr Ashraf should “accept the resignations and hold countrywide elections”.

‘PPP, not US, ousted Imran’

In a wide ranging speech delivered at an event held to mark his mother’s death anniversary, Mr Bhutto-Zardari touched on a host of political issues.

He refuted Mr Khan’s ‘foreign conspiracy’ mantra, saying that it was his party, not Washington, that had engineered his ouster through democratic means.

“We sent Imran home through the Constitution […] and this was the first time the parliament ousted a prime minister. The ‘conspiracy against the selected’ was not hatched behind closed doors, rather it happened on the streets and in the parliament in plain sight.”

He went on to say that the military had made its position clear, i.e. they were staying out of politics clear. “It is now time to ensure that they fulfil their promise,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, adding that this was the reason why “we are hearing screams from Bani Gala”.

Saying that his party had played its part in the legislature for four years, the PPP leader said this was the PTI chief’s “last warning” to play his role. “We will negotiate with you on electoral and NAB reforms,” he said, adding that they did not want Mr Khan to go jail or face the accountability body.

He also pointed towards the arrest of Mayam Nawaz and Faryal Talpur during Mr Khan’s time in power, saying: “If you tamper with the Constitution, something will happen”.

Separately, in his remarks at a dinner in Islamabad, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain extolled the need to work “not for the interests of parties, rather the interests of Pakistan”.

He said that political and economic stability are crucial for the country and the general elections should be held on time.

“Only if we all come together for the sake of Pakistan can we save it. In case we cannot set aside our differences, all will be lost,” he said.

Chaudhry Shujaat also pointed to the economic crisis plaguing the country, saying that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would only extend its support if political parties could set aside their differences.

“We will act sternly against those who are just trying to raise their importance in the eyes of enemy nations,” he said, without elaborating.

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