Accessibility links

Opposition Leader's Arrest Sparks Sharp Criticism in Pakistan - 2003-10-31

The arrest of an important Pakistani opposition leader is sparking furious protest by some legislators.

More than 100 National Assembly members from Pakistan's major opposition parties staged a demonstration outside the parliament building Friday, protesting the arrest of opposition leader Javed Hashmi.

Mr. Hashmi was stopped and seized by a large contingent of police as he drove out of the parliament compound Wednesday evening.

The arrest stems from a letter allegedly written by high-ranking army officers protesting President Musharraf's alliance with the United States in combating terrorists. Mr. Hashmi made the letter public and a complaint was lodged.

He will remain in custody for a five-day period for police interrogation.

Following the arrest, the government has tried to distance itself from the case. It is saying the letter is not authentic, but also asserts that if there is evidence of mutinous activity by army officers, they will take action.

Mr. Hashmi is the senior leader of a party representing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom President Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup. Mr. Sharif is now living in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Nisar Ali Khan, a lawmaker from Mr. Hashmi's party, says the arrested leader cannot be held responsible for the unsigned letter, which was delivered anonymously to several legislators.

He also protests the manner of the arrest.

"The very logic of this case is faulty but even if the government had made a case there was a more civilized way of going about it," said Mr. Ali Khan. "Javed Hashmi was not a terrorist. He was not going to run away… The police could have gone to Javed Hashmi in a more civilized manner."

Friday's demonstration also drew members of the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal, or MMA, a powerful alliance of religious parties.

Top MMA leader Qazi Hussein Ahmad says their presence at the rally was not just about Mr. Hashmi's arrest, but a protest of the Musharraf government's cooperation with the United States in hunting alleged terrorists in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal region. He says the arrest of Mr. Hashmi is a diversionary ploy.

"They have arrested one of our very important leaders in order to divert the attention from their operation in the tribal areas," commented Mr. Ahmad.

The opposition adds that Mr. Hashmi's arrest also violates the constitutional immunity normally extended to members of parliament.