ISLAMABAD: In more than four years in office, President Asif Ali Zardari is currently going through his longest spell away from the presidency.
On Tuesday, he spent his 35th day outside the presidency and is likely to be in Karachi for another week or so. His visit to the interior of Sindh has been scheduled for Jan 14, the day when Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran chief Dr Tahirul Qadri is to lead a long march from Lahore to Islamabad for what he calls a ‘change’ in the system.
Apparently, the president has been staying in Bilawal House, PPP secretariat, to avoid criticism and follow the orders of the Supreme Court which barred him from indulging in political activities in the presidency in the judgement in the Asghar Khan case in October.
However, the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar rejected this perception and said President Zardari was in Karachi for some “non-political engagements”.
He agreed that the current stay of President Zardari in Karachi was the longest one since he assumed the charge of his office in Sept 9, 2008.
“Earlier, once he had stayed outside the presidency for 22 days,” the spokesman said.
The president spent 22 days outside the presidency in Dec 2011 in the wake of the ‘memo’ scandal. He left Islamabad for Karachi on Dec 7 and went to Dubai on the 9th, apparently for medical treatment. He returned to the country on Dec 19 to spend the remaining 10 days in Bilawal House in Karachi.
Mr Babar said the president had been staying in Karachi because he had to inaugurate several development projects in Sindh.
Interestingly, President Zardari has called a meeting of the PPP’s core committee in Bilawal House on Wednesday and it was confirmed by his spokesman. As per directives of the apex court, President Zardari cannot hold such a meeting, in his capacity as PPP co-chairman, in the presidency.
During his stay in Bilawal House, the president had met several delegations of the leaders of his party. On Jan 1 he called Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to Karachi for a one-to-one meeting.
The president’s longest sojourn outside the presidency started on Dec 3 when he left for South Korea on a three-day official visit. On Dec 6 he arrived in Dubai and, after two days, flew to the UK, where he and his children met Malala Yousufzai at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Then, President Zardari travelled to France on Dec 10.
He returned to Pakistan on Dec 16 and since then has been staying in Karachi.