ISLAMABAD – Former president Asif Ali Zardari will attend the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump later this month, close aides said.
Trump, who won the US election against Democrat Hillary Clinton in November, will take oath on January 20th in Washington. This will mark an end to eight-year Democrat rule. Mike Pence will take charge as the vice president.
Zardari returned from an 18-month self-imposed exile on December 23, and announced on December 27 – at the death anniversary of his spouse Benazir Bhutto – that he and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will contest by-election to become part of the parliament.
The PPP co-chairman has since been holding meetings to prepare for the by-election and to finalise the future line of action.
The father and the son are aiming at reviving the PPP and forming alliance with the like-minded parties for the 2018 polls.
The first goal will be to unify the opposition against the government and give tough time to the rulers.
A senior PPP leader told The Nation, that Zardari had been invited to Trump’s inauguration and he would fly to the US to attend it.
“Bilawal has also been invited but he may not go due to party engagement. Zardari will not be in the US for long,” he said.
The PPP leader, a confidante of the party co-chairman, said that Zardari would also undergo a “routine” medical check-up in the US.
“This relates to some rumours that he was going abroad for medical check-up. He is likely to undergo a medical check-up during the US trip,” he added.
Other PPP leaders also confirmed the plan.
There were earlier reports that Zardari might leave Pakistan again for medical check-up but the PPP co-chairman is still in the country.
The government has still not confirmed whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will attend Trump’s oath-taking but the premier is likely to visit the US soon for a bilateral meeting with the new president-elect.
After Trump’s election in November, there were concerns he might be aggressive towards Pakistan keeping in view his pro-India image.
Most Pakistani-Americans supported losing candidate Hillary Clinton who was believed to be more liberal and harmonious towards the Muslims.
Indian-Americans had voted for Trump and they celebrated his win hoping to pressurise Pakistan.
But soon after Trump won, Pakistan started diplomatic efforts to win over Trump.
Prime Minister Sharif also held telephonic talks with Trump in which he described Pakistanis as “fantastic people” and gave hints of enhancing Pakistan-US ties.
Sindh provincial transport minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said Zardari was preparing for the by-elections and was set to enter the parliament.
“He will unite the opposition and we will hope to do much better in the 2018 polls,” he said, adding the former president was a free man and could go anywhere around the world.
“I don’t know about his schedule but if he decides, he might attend Trump’s inauguration. Returning from exile does not mean he will not go anywhere from now on,” Shah said.
CALL FOR STEPS TO PREVENT MISUSE
OF RELIGION-BASED LAWS
Zardari on Tuesday said that six years ago former governor Punjab Salman Taseer “laid down his life protecting minorities and vulnerable sections of society against misuse of religion-based laws and we pay homage to his memory.”
In a message, he said Taseer’s assassination “at the hands of bigots was not just loss of a political party; it was loss of the nation.”
The PPP, Zardari said, “rejects the bigots and extremists who continue to exploit religion-based laws to impose upon the people their own version of religious edicts on the one hand, and to stifle dissent on the other.”
Zardari said that the PPP would continue to oppose and resist the narrow and “bigoted narrative of Islamic tenets by some elements to suit their political agenda.”
He said that on the sixth anniversary of Taseer “let us pledge that collectively we will prevent the misuse of the religion-based laws.”