Now I am in the field: Zardari

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Former president and Pakistan People’s Party Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday said that he was ‘in handcuffs’ during the general elections 2013, but now the situation has changed and he is in the field.

Addressing a press conference here, he said that his son – PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto – and his daughters – Bakhtawar Bhutto and Asifa Bhutto – were ready for the next elections. “The time for the elections has come, now people will know what elections are,” he said.

He reiterated that his party lost in the last elections in Punjab due to ‘RO’ elections, making an indirect reference to the elections being rigged. Soon after the general elections of 2013, Zardari as president had said that the returning officers (ROs) played an important role in the elections.

“If I get [the support of] these ROs, I can win the presidential election,” he had said. The PPP did not want to sacrifice ‘another Bhutto’ just for another 25-26 seats, he had said. He also said that the PPP could not run a proper elections campaign in Punjab because of the Taliban threats. Moreover, the party couldn’t fight on multiple fronts simultaneously, he said.

Despite reservations, Zardari had said that the PPP has conceded defeat. He also said at that time that the PPP lost 40 to 45 seats because of its poor elections strategy. Asked what would be the party’s strategy if the 2013 elections were held again, he had said he would step down to lead PPP’s election campaign.

On Sunday, he told reporters that the PPP would consult with all the political parties for transparent elections. “When Shaheed Bibi (Benazir Bhutto) used to visit Lahore, the city would close down,” he recalled. “It would happen again, entire Lahore would shut down,” he said.

The former president briefly addressed the media in Lahore after attending a luncheon hosted in his honour by Nadeem Afzal Chan, a leader of the party. Zardari challenged the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N power in Punjab, saying that PPP would let the political party know in 2018 what elections really mean.

BORDER MANAGEMENT: Zardari said in his earlier statement that border management with mutual consultation with Afghanistan was critical for addressing issues of militancy and terrorism and for peace in the region. He said that proper securing of borders with mutual consultation would put an end to allegations of cross-border incursions of militants that has vitiated the relations between the two neighbours – Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He was commenting on reports that fencing of the border with Afghanistan along the border areas in Bajaur and Momand has started. He said that it was unfortunate that the relations between the two countries had plunged low in recent times. He called for concerted and sincere efforts by both the countries to overcome mistrust and suspicions.

“Border management with mutual consultation has long been delayed,” he said, adding that decision on it should no longer be delayed. He expressed the hope that the move to start border fencing would be welcomed by all those wanting an end to militancy and to the counter-productive allegations of cross-border incursions.

On Saturday, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the border areas in Mohmand and Orakzai agencies and also interacted with troops at Suran and Kalaya, and hailed their high morale, operational preparedness and effective response to recent cross-border terrorist attacks.

On the occasion, he had said that fencing on Pakistan-Afghanistan border had commenced and border areas in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, being high threat zones, were first priority for that. He said that the additional technical surveillance means were also being deployed along the border besides regular air surveillance.

He said that efforts were in hand to evolve a bilateral border security mechanism with Afghan authorities. He said that a better managed, secure and peaceful border was in mutual interest of both countries, who had given phenomenal sacrifices in the war against terrorism. General Bajwa was given a detailed briefing about border security arrangements, cross-border terrorist threat and recent terrorist attacks from across the border on the Pakistani posts.

On March 21, hundreds of trucks crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan after the border reopened for the first time in more than a month, ending the protracted closure of one of South Asia’s busiest trade routes.

Pakistan closed the border in mid-February, following a string of militant attacks from across Afghanistan. The government reopened border crossings with Afghanistan as a goodwill gesture, but with a hope that Kabul would address its concerns about terrorist sanctuaries on the border.