KARACHI: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan waded into the controversy over the arrest and release of Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hasan on Saturday when he threw his weight behind a recalcitrant police officer and accused Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of forcing the Sindh chief minister to suspend the officer.

However, the Sindh government made it clear that the prime minister had nothing to do with the suspension of Malir SSP Rao Anwar as Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had taken “this administrative decision” before speaking to the premier.

On Friday, Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Khawaja Izhar, who had got pre-arrest bail in 25 cases pertaining to listening to the provocative speeches of MQM supremo Altaf Hussain, was arrested under a similar FIR by SSP Anwar.

Both the prime minister and the chief minister expressed concerns over the manner in which the opposition leader was arrested, without any intimation to the speaker of the provincial assembly. The Sindh police chief suspended the SSP and Khawaja Izhar was released on a personal bond in the case.

The PTI chief took no time in using the opportunity to heap scorn on his main political rival, as he said in a statement that Mr Sharif was feeling so threatened by the Panama Papers inquiry issue that he was prepared to go to any length to appease the PPP and MQM.

Talking about the suspension of SSP Anwar — who is said to be close to former president Asif Ali Zardari as well as an influential property tycoon — Mr Khan slammed the prime minister for compelling the Sindh chief minister to get the MQM leader released and for suspending the police officer who “was simply acting according to the law and in line with his duties”.

He said such political interference was the reason why police in Sindh and Punjab were unable to do their job and effectively maintain law and order.

Without naming the PTI chief, a spokesman for the chief minister denied the impression “being given by certain political leaders” that SSP Anwar was suspended at the behest of the prime minister. “The CM took this administrative decision on his own and PM Sharif called him over the phone later.”

In an apparent reference to the action of SSP Anwar, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari promised on Saturday to depoliticise the police force as he believed that the partiality of law-enforcers could weaken peace efforts in Karachi.

Also on Saturday, Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Mustafa Kamal asked MQM-Pakistan chief Dr Farooq Sattar to resign from parliament and take to the streets to struggle for the release and recovery of the held and ‘missing’ workers in the same manner as he and his party had done for the release of Khwaja Izhar.

He said that his party would fully support their struggle if the MQM lawmakers resigned.

Khwaja Izhar appeared before a sessions court which was informed by the investigation officer of a hate speech case that he was released under Section 497(2) of the criminal procedure code for lack of evidence. The court gave 14 days to the IO to submit a final charge-sheet.

The IO submitted in his report that a man, called Khan Muhammad, had lodged a complaint that he had watched on social media a video in which the MQM chief was criticising the military establishment and giving remarks which were tantamount to sedition. The complaint also nominated Khwaja Izhar for allegedly facilitating the hate speech and applauding its content.

However, the IO said, no proof was found against the MQM leader.

Later, a reluctant Khwaja Izhar told the media that the Sindh CM had shown courage on Friday but only time would tell whether he would stick to his decisions or not.

Meanwhile, the suspension of SSP Anwar did not stop him from appearing on television talk shows to defend his action.

However, a top-ranking police officer told Dawn that the inquiry against SSP Anwar would also focus on his frequent appearance on television talk shows, which might “land him in a difficult position” because it was a gross violation of the code of conduct for police officers issued by Inspector General of Police A.D. Khowaja.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officer said that SSP Anwar arrested the opposition leader at the behest of “someone important”, as he came to know only on Friday that Khwaja Izhar was a “criminal and chief of target killers”.

In Karachi’s Malir district, a few protest demonstrations were held in favour of Rao Anwar. The demonstrators called for reinstatement of the suspended officer as he had restored law and order to the district.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2016