ISLAMABAD -  Former president Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday said that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan needed to “earn” the friendship of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Responding to a question about the possibility of “friendship with Imran Khan in the future”, the PPP co-chairman said at a news conference here: “Let’s see. He himself tries to escape accountability. We will see when he has gone through some jail terms and has learned about victimisation.”

Zardari said Imran Khan spoke of accountability but he runs away from taking practical steps.

“He says it is Zardari’s turn [to be held to account] but his own turn is still awaited. He does not accept accountability for himself. I have served several years in jail for doing nothing,” the former president said.

The PPP leader said Nawaz Sharif should leave it for the next assembly to amend the constitution and removal of articles 62 and 63.

“This parliament is not mandated to amend the constitution. After the next elections, the new assembly can decide on it,” he added.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government is seeking the PPP’s help to remove articles 62 and 63 from the constitution after Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court as the prime minister for hiding assets in violation of the same law. 

Sharif was disqualified on July 28.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) later denotified Sharif as a member of the National Assembly and also asked the PML-N to remove him as the party head.

This month, Nawaz Sharif left Islamabad for Lahore along with thousands of his supporters on the famous Grand Trunk Road. Sharif stopped at different stations to address his loyalists.

The former premier, still the most powerful person in the ruling PML-N, has been defending himself against the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify him for hiding assets.

He has already filed several review petitions in the top court, challenging his ouster.

The ECP has scheduled polling in Lahore’s NA-120 constituency for September 17 after Sharif’s disqualification.

The election authorities have approved Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz’s nomination for the by-poll.

Zardari said the PPP government was toppled in the past but Benazir Bhutto did not take to the GT Road.

“This is not the way to handle the judiciary. There are several ways to deal with the judiciary and the establishment,” he maintained.

Zardari claimed all cases against him in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) were politically motivated and he was victimised for 12 years. 

“[As] soon as I had dealt with one case, they filed another petty case. Their agenda was to victimise me,” he maintained.

“I was arrested after being trapped in false cases. I was shifted from Lahore to Karachi and then to Landhi Jail. This is a long story. They had filed 14 cases against me. This was not just one case,” Zardari said.

Over the weekend, an accountability court acquitted Zardari of all references related to his alleged unlawful assets in Pakistan and abroad over lack of evidence.

Judge Khalid Mehmood Ranjha accepted the application seeking acquittal of the former president.

The PPP leaders also congratulated Zardari on his acquittal in the assets case by the accountability court.

Zardari recalled a number of “fake” corruption cases against him and torture in jail.

“They injured me. They cut my tongue and called it an attempt to suicide. The court proved it was not a suicide attempt. Such people were made witnesses against me whom I did not even know,” the PPP leader said.

He said that even if he was convicted, he would have served less time in prison than he was made to stay behind the bars for “crimes not done”.

Zardari said that Murtaza Bhutto was assassinated in 1996 in order to bring down Benazir Bhutto’s government.

“Benazir Bhutto herself said they have killed a Bhutto to get a Bhutto,” he said.

About the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) during Pervez Musharraf’s military regime, he said: “Benazir Bhutto accepted the NRO as it carried proposals for electoral reforms. The return of Nawaz Sharif [from exile] was made possible. Benazir Bhutto did not cut a deal,” Zardari contended.

Asked who was running the PPP, he or his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the former president said Bilawal was the chief and no one could say “no” to him.

“Basically we work through consensus. We discuss all the issues. We have a central executive committee, which takes important decisions,” he said.

Zardari said that he had never tried to be greedy throughout his political career.

“I could easily have formed a PPP government in Punjab after 2008 but I let the Sharifs form their government. I needed Sharifs, I could not have ousted Pervez Musharraf without them. That was the main goal,” he added.

Zardari said that if Musharraf had not quit the army chief’s post in 2007, he would still have been in power.

“The PPP wanted to achieve its goals one by one,” he said.

On the next polls, Zardari said there would be a higher number of independent candidates this time.

“I am free from courts now and we hope to perform better. I will not take revenge from my foes,” he declared.

Questioned how the future prime ministers could be allowed to complete their terms without the fear of ouster, Zardari said: “I can’t give gurantees. [Former US presidents John F] Kennedy and [Ronald] Reagan were attacked. We need to make democracy strong.”