SAYED Zulfiqar Bukhari
SAYED Zulfiqar Bukhari

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, known as Zulfi Bukhari, has stated that he will sue Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart Khawaja Asif over his allegations that he had used his influence over the authorities to allow return of the Zaireen (pilgrims) from Iran through the Taftan border without fulfilling the requirements of testing and quarantine.

Mr Bukhari, who has been facing criticism from his opponents and some political groups, over his alleged role in bringing back the Zaireen from Iran termed the allegation a “blatant lie”.

In an interview to the Voice of America on Saturday, Mr Bukhari alleged that by giving an “irresponsible statement” on TV channels, Khawaja Asif had put his life at risk.

“If a responsible leader belonging to an opposition party will make an irresponsible statement on TV saying that coronavirus has spread in the country due to Zulfi Bukhari as I allowed Zaireen to return home from Taftan (border) then my life comes in danger,” Mr Bukhari said, adding that had any politician made such a “false statement” on TV in any other country, he would have landed in jail.

When contacted, Khawaja Asif said that his lawyer would respond to Mr Bukhari’s legal notice once he received it.

PML-N leader says his lawyer will respond to notice, when received

When asked if he stuck to his allegation that Mr Bukhari was responsible for the spread of coronavirus through the Zaireen from Iran, Mr Asif said not only him, but “the whole country is now saying this”.

“Even one of his (Mr Bukhari’s) relatives has made the statement now,” said Mr Asif, who is also the parliamentary leader of the PML-N in the National Assembly.

On the other hand, claiming that he had nothing to do with the matter of the pilgrims from Iran, Mr Bukhari said the pilgrims were allowed to return to the country under the same policy under which some 15,000 to 20,000 Umra pilgrims were allowed to return home from Saudi Arabia.

The SAPM said there was no comparison of the issue of the Pakistani students in China as the government had a uniform policy for the students. He said there were some 5,000 Pakistani students in Iran, but they had not been allowed to return to their homeland.

Mr Bukhari said though he was the target of criticism in the case of Pakistani students in China, he said the decision of keeping the students back in Wuhan later proved true. He said not a single corona case had been reported from China border.

The SAPM, however, was of the view that the Balochistan government should not be criticised as it did whatever it could to handle the Zaireen. He said they had to allow entry of some 5,000 Pakistani pilgrims at the Taftan border as they were stamped out by the Iranian authorities.

Mr Bukhari said there was no proof or data available that these Zaireen got infected while staying at the quarantine camp in Taftan. He said these Zaireen had undertaken a seven-day journey within Iran before reaching the border area and who knew as to how many of them got the infection during this journey.

The SAPM said the evacuation of stranded Pakistanis on foreign soil was the top priority of the government which was busy in negotiations with the authorities in the countries like Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UK and the US.

He said still there were still some 250 Zaireen in Iran. Similarly, he said, there were some Umra pilgrims stranded in Saudi Arabia and the government was making every effort to bring them back to the country.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020