Country's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa orders probe after local politicians said that Sindh province's top police official was abducted by paramilitary troops, who coerced him into signing an order to arrest an opposition leader.
Pakistan's army chief has ordered an investigation into allegations that a provincial police chief was kidnapped by paramilitary troops to force him to order the arrest of the son-in-law of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
In a statement, the military said army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had ordered the military commander in the port city of Karachi to begin a probe into the accusation.
The development comes a day after Sharif's son-in-law, Mohammad Safdar, was briefly arrested after tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi on Sunday as part of a campaign to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, who they accuse of being installed by the military in a rigged election two years ago. The military denies the allegations.
Safdar was arrested following complaints from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party that he had raised political slogans at the mausoleum of Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
“Police broke my room door at the hotel I was staying at in Karachi and arrested Capt Safdar,” Nawaz Sharif's daughter and Safdar's wife, Maryam Nawaz tweeted on Monday morning.
I was in the room, sleeping, when they barged in. https://t.co/1gMEHHUnPx— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) October 19, 2020
The Sindh government, under which the Sindh police operate, said it had not ordered Safdar's arrest and that the police had been pressured into taking the action.
"The police chief's phones were seized. He was taken to the sector commander's office and asked to sign the arrest orders," Maryam Nawaz, Safdar's wife and Sharif's daughter, told media on Monday. Mahar was reported to have been allowed to leave on Monday after signing the arrest order.
Safdar was freed after a court granted him bail, but controversy ensued amid allegations he was arrested by paramilitary Rangers after they pressured provincial chief Mushtaq Mehar to sign orders for Safdar's arrest.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whose Pakistan Peoples Party rules Sindh, publicly called for the army and intelligence chiefs to probe the matter, saying the incident had "crossed a red line."
KARACHI, October 20: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa called the Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party @BBhuttoZardari over the telephone to discuss the Karachi incident this evening.— PPP (@MediaCellPPP) October 20, 2020
Neither the Rangers nor Khan have commented, but some police officers, angered over Mehar's treatment, applied for a leave of absence in response to the alleged mistreatment of the police chief. Officials say police had initially refused to arrest Safdar.
Mehar, in a brief statement, said he too considered taking a leave of absence, but changed his mind and asked his officers to defer going on leave for 10 days to give authorities a chance to investigate the matter. He did not say who abducted him or who forcibly took him to the offices of the Rangers.
In a series of tweets, Sindh provincial police said the “unfortunate incident" had “caused great heartache and resentment within all ranks of Sindh Police." Police thanked the army chief for ordering an investigation into the incident.
The unfortunate incident that occurred on the night of 18/19 October caused great heartache and resentment within all ranks of Sindh Police.— Sindh Police (@sindhpolicedmc) October 20, 2020
Federal minister Ali Zaidi, belonging to the PTI, rejected the narrative given by the opposition.
Simple enforcement of the law in Sindh has become laughable due to the politicization of police by PPP for 12+ years.— Ali Haider Zaidi (@AliHZaidiPTI) October 20, 2020
How can they even think of publicly claiming that the IG was kidnapped in the middle of the night! Who are they trying to fool?
Opposition's anti-government campaign
The mass demonstration in Karachi was the second in three days launched by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), formed last month by nine major opposition parties to begin a nationwide agitation against the government.
The campaign against Khan seeks to tap into discontent over his handling of the economy, which was in a bad shape with a high inflation rate even before the global coronavirus pandemic struck and now the country is suffering negative economic growth.
The next general election is scheduled for 2023.
Safdar's father-in-law, Sharif, also has had a long, uneasy relationship with the military, which ruled Pakistan directly or indirectly for most of its history.
Sharif served as Pakistan’s prime minister three times. A court in 2017 ousted him from power convicting him of corruption charges. He has been staying in London since November after being allowed to receive medical treatment abroad.
Earlier on Friday, the opposition held a mass rally in Gujranwala, a city in the eastern province of Punjab, a stronghold for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).
Addressing the rally via video link from London, Nawaz Sharif accused the military leadership of rigging the 2018 elections and orchestrating his ouster in 2017, saying the corruption charges brought against him were concocted.
The military, which denies meddling in politics, has yet to respond specifically to Sharif's accusations.
Khan, who denies the army helped him win, has defended the military and had threatened a fresh crackdown on opposition leaders one day before Safdar's arrest.