ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minis­ter (SAPM) on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Develop­ment Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari, known as Zulfi Bukhari, has served a legal defamation notice of Rs1 billion on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart and MNA Khawaja Asif over the allegation that he had used his influence on the authorities to allow the return of Zaireen (pilgrims) from Iran through the Taftan border without fulfilling the requirements of testing and quarantine.

In the notice served thr­ough his lawyer under Section 8 of the Defamation Ordi­nance 2002 and sent to Mr Asif through courier to his Ghaz­navi Road residence in Sialkot and his apartment at Parlia­ment Lodges in Islamabad, Mr Bukhari asked the PML-N leader to “withdraw, recall and retract the defamatory imputation and tender an apology” within 14 days.

In an interview to the Voice of America on Saturday, Mr Bukhari said he had decided to sue Mr Asif for making a “false allegation” against him. He said that by giving an “irresponsible statement” on TV channels, the PML-N leader 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 had said.

Through the legal notice, Mr Bukhari asked the PML-N leader to “tender a proper public apology” to him and “cause the same to be broadcast and disseminated prominently as the original defamatory statement was broadcast and disseminated and post the same on all online platforms and websites on which the same was posted”.

The SAPM also deman­ded that Mr Asif publish a contradiction of the defamatory statement and imputation setting out the correct factual position. And in case of failing to do so, he added, the PML-N leader would have to pay Rs1bn as damages for bringing disrepute to him.

Responding to Mr Buk­hari’s announcement, Kha­waja Asif told Dawn that his lawyer would respond to the legal notice once he received it. Asked if he stuck to his allegation that Mr Bukhari was responsible for the spread of coronavirus through Zaireen, he said not only him, but “the whole country is now saying this”, adding that “even one of his [Mr Bukhari’s] relatives has made the statement now”.

On the other hand, Mr Bukhari claimed that he had nothing to do with the matter of the pilgrims from Iran, saying they 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.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020