Pakistani politician released as opposition to continue protests
Opposition leader Muhammad Safdar released on bail after spending hours in custody following anti-government protest.
Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani opposition political leader Muhammad Safdar has been released on bail, hours after being arrested by authorities on charges related to a speech at a mausoleum ahead of a major anti-government rally on Sunday.
Safdar was arrested at his hotel room in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi early on Monday, his wife Maryam Nawaz, the daughter and political heir to former three-time Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said.
Later on Monday, Nawaz confirmed at a news conference that Safdar had been released on bail.
“We will both be leaving Karachi together because I have just received a message … that he has been granted bail,” Nawaz said.
Safdar was taken into custody in connection with charges against him for raising political slogans at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, on Sunday.
That incident came hours ahead of a political rally of tens of thousands in Karachi that is part of the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) countrywide drive to attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government.
Formed last month, the PDM is an alliance of 11 opposition political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz faction (PML-N), the Pakistan People’s Party, the Jamiat Ulema Islam’s Fazl faction (JUI-F) and others.
The PDM alleges Khan’s victory in the 2018 general election was rigged by the country’s military, which has directly ruled the country for roughly half of its 73-year history.
Khan and the military have routinely denied the accusation, with the prime minister accusing the opposition of attempting to deflect or discredit his government’s anti-corruption campaign, which has seen several top political opponents jailed or investigated for alleged corruption.
The military has taken an increasingly overt role in governance under Khan, with serving and retired military officials taking key positions in his administration, including in the areas of health, telecommunications, economic affairs and the $60bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
At the rally in Karachi on Sunday, PDM leaders repeated their accusations against Khan and criticised him for his handling of the country’s economy.
It was the second major protest by the group, which launched its anti-government campaign with a protest by thousands in the central city of Gujranwala on Friday.
At that demonstration, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, addressing the gathering by video link from London, took blunt aim at the military, accusing army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa of rigging the 2018 elections and engineering his removal as prime minister in 2017.
Sharif left for London on medical bail last year, as appeals against his conviction and sentencing to 10 years in prison on corruption charges continue.
Last month, an Islamabad court issued arrest warrants for him, demanding he returns to the country and appears in person for hearings.
Sharif is also facing sedition charges for criticising the military’s alleged role in politics.
The opposition’s movement to overthrow Khan comes as Pakistan’s economy – already struggling before the pandemic – is grappling with double-digit food inflation and negative economic growth.
Khan’s government says it will be taking on the issue of food inflation in the coming weeks, and blames the economic slowdown on the coronavirus pandemic and the state of the economy it inherited from Sharif’s PML-N in 2018.
The PDM will continue its countrywide protest movement with further anti-government demonstrations in the coming days, PDM leaders said on Monday.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim