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Bilawal warns against talks with militants

Bilawal warns against talks with militants

KARACHI: Calling PTI chief Imran Khan “a frontman for terrorists”, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday accused the former premier of following an appeasement policy during his tenure that the PPP chairman said resulted in militants’ resurgence.

The foreign minister even warned his own government in the Centre, saying his party would not allow any such strategy and talks with militants “behind parliament’s back”.

Speaking at a press conference after the party’s central executive committee (CEC) meeting at Bilawal House, the PPP chairman was clear about the future strategy of his party while being a key ally of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government and suggested that multiple challenges emerging one after another demanded a new code of conduct for all political parties.

He referred to “serious concerns” within his party over the tottering economy and announced a committee of PPP leaders that would take them up with the federal government.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari touched on a range of issues and spoke candidly about the challenge of terrorism, the ongoing economic crisis, and his current relations with another ally in the Centre, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P), which earlier this week announced a Jan 9 protest against PPP over disagreements on local government elections in Karachi and Hyderabad.

“Imran Khan, as a frontman for terrorists while being the prime minister, took decisions against the country’s security,” he said in response to a question about growing criticism of his government amid growing militant attacks in different parts of the country.

While in office, Mr Khan “released all the terrorists, including those who were involved in [the Dec 2014] attack on the Army Public School”, the foreign minister alleged.

Then Mr Khan “helped them leave the country. Only last year, he was inviting those [militants] living in Afghanistan to return and live like normal citizens of this country. That’s what we are reaping today”, he said.

Before his address, a resolution passed by the PPP’s central executive committee was read out before the media that manifested its policy as a political party and also as an ally in the government.

The PPP, the resolution said, wanted parliament to stay on top of all decisions being made by the government.

“The CEC resolves that there should be no talks with militants until they lay down arms and accept the Constitution of Pakistan. It also reaffirms its commitment that nothing should be done by the government behind the back of parliament,” Senator Farhatullah Babar read out the resolution.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari agreed with the concerns over the economy but gave “full credit” to his ally PML-N for “saving the country from the default” while taking care of the finance ministry in the coalition government.

To address concerns, which were also raised in the CEC meeting, he decided to set up a committee comprising senior leaders and led by Commerce Minister Syed Naveed Qamar.

“This committee would meet experts and government functionaries to address all those concerns and get a clear picture. It would also find answers to all those questions [about the economy] that I was asked in today’s meeting,” the foreign minister said.

When asked about the party’s current ties with the MQM-P, the PPP chairman showed a willingness to “move forward” with its ally in the Centre but reiterated that he couldn’t pay the price of an “illegal and undemocratic step” for this purpose.

“And to reflect our sincerity, we have accommodated MQM in Sindh where we don’t need it in terms of numbers in the provincial assembly,” he said. “We appointed an administrator on their recommendation. A governor was appointed with their consultation. Their MPAs were given budgetary space. But it should not be expected that I would go for any illegal or undemocratic move for anyone’s interests.”

He also expressed concern over “politics of my way or the highway” and referred to a lengthy discussion in the party’s CEC on possible moves and decisions that could “bring maturity in the political” and “strengthen the democracy”.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2023

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