• Terms Imran ‘Altaf Hussain of Punjab’
• Hopes to find political solution to turmoil

KARACHI: Describing the recent violent protests by PTI supporters after the party chief’s arrest as acts of “treason” and “terrorism” and comparing it with militant outfits, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday turned down suggestions to ban the opposition party.

However, he warned that if Imran Khan’s party insisted on an “armed rebellion”, it would lead to the point “where we will be forced to ban such an organisation.”

Two days after Mr Khan’s arrest and several episodes of violent protests across the country, the PPP chairman chose to share his thoughts on the current crisis and, for the first time, named the real estate giant and Bahria Town founder Malik Riaz as the prime beneficiary of all the serious corruption charges being faced by Mr Khan in the Al-Qadir University Trust case.

In over an hour-long presser at Bilawal House, the foreign minister came up with a mix of ideas and proposals — he warned of a strong reaction from the state against the elements involved in violence, asked the PTI leadership to build a consensus through dialogue, called Mr Khan the “Altaf Hussain of Punjab”, and hoped to find a political solution to the ongoing turmoil.

“It won’t be my decision that there should be a ban [on PTI] or not,” he rep­lied to a question about the PTI’s future after recent attacks on state institutions and even on security installations.

“They [PTI] need to decide first whether they have really decided to now take up armed resistance in Pakistan. But if they still claim to be a political party and disown all those elements involved in the violence, then I don’t see why there should be any ban,” he said.

“But if they decide that they are going to do an armed rebellion against the state of Pakistan, then absolutely there will be circumstances where we will be forced to ban such an organisation,” he added.

Earlier, to a similar question, he called himself the last person to support a ban on any political party. He recalled the PPP’s history when it went through the same “victimisation” under dictatorial rule and was even deprived of its electoral symbol.

Due to those curbs, he said, the party was still not allowed to contest the polls under the banner of the PPP, and it went into elections under the PPP Parliamentarian.

He said the violence triggered after the PTI chairman’s arrest on Tuesday was unprecedented and reminded the dark days of Pakistan.

“As far as I remember, one attack on GHQ was carried out by the TTP and now by the PTI. As far as I remember, the outlawed BLA attacked Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s House in Balochistan, and now the second attack has been made by the PTI on Jinnah House [now designated as corps commander’s house] in Lahore,” he added.

When asked about the fate of elections amid growing political temperature and a widening gulf between the opposition and the ruling PDM alliance, Mr Bhutto-Zardari sounded quite optimistic about the possibility of the upcoming polls. He referred to the PPP’s efforts to engage all political stakeholders, including the PTI, through dialogue.

“We are in favour of holding the general elections on time and I am hopeful for finding a political solution to the current situation in the country,” the foreign minister said.

“But again, this is only possible through a political process. I invite the PTI leadership and ask them to look forward if they really want to do the politics of democratic values,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2023

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