LAHORE

PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari will return to Pakistan at a time to be proposed by the party, senior leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said yesterday, ruling out the possibility of the former president's presence at the death anniversary of his assassinated spouse Benazir Bhutto on December 27.

Talking to The Nation, the former information minister said there was no bar on Mr Zardari's return to Pakistan nor was there any charge against him which could deter him.

"If so, what was it that was stopping the PPP co-chairperson from coming back to his country on such an important occasion?" The Nation asked. He was also reminded that Mr Zardari had failed to attend even the funeral of senior party leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim some weeks ago, which showed that there was really something terribly important because of which he prefers to stay out of the country.

"This is our decision. This is the party decision (that he should not come back for the time being)", said Mr Kaira who, media reports say, is being considered for some important party office because of his ability to defend the party at all forums.

Observes say PPP is under enormous pressure these days because one of its key leaders Dr Asim Hussain is being interrogated by federal agencies over charges of corruption and misuse of authority which may ultimately implicate the PPP co-chairman.

Waqt News reported yesterday that the PPP co-chairman had failed to get Saudi support for his safe return to Pakistan. It said the diplomacy of even former interior minister Rehman Malik and PPP chairman Bilawal had failed to pave the way for the return home of Mr Zardari.

The PPP co-chairman visited Saudi Arabia a few days ago and performed Umrah. However, media reports said that the former president had gone there to seek help from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Also, it was reported that the Saudi authorities told him that they could not interfere in the internal political affairs of Pakistan.

Mr Kaira rejected as baseless all reports that Mr Zardari wanted the Saudi authorities to play any role for his return. The former president had gone there only to perform Umrah, he claimed.

"Then how will you explain Bilawal's meeting with the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad during those days?" he was asked.

Mr Kaira said Bilwal's meeting with the Saudi envoy was pre-scheduled.

The same day, he said, the PPP chairman had met with two other ambassadors in the federal capital.

The former information minister complained that the media was biased against the PPP and its leadership. It published things which were totally baseless. "This is nothing but target-killing".

He said he would like to know what the PPP should do to escape this target-killing.

He pointed out that when Zardari was running the party, critics were raising objections to Bilawal's absence from the political scene. But now that Bilawal is trying to take over the party reins, Zardari's absence from Pakistan was the subject of discussions.

He dismissed reports that Mr Zardari faced any health problem. Had it been so, he would not have gone to Saudia Arabia to perform Umrah, Mr Kaira argued.