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(Clockwise from top) A PPP worker waves the party flag from atop the gate of NAB headquarters, PPP chairman's security personnel faints at the entrance while Bilawal Bhutto Zardari gestures to jiyalas during his appearance at the bureau on Wednesday. —  Photos by Tanveer Shahzad
(Clockwise from top) A PPP worker waves the party flag from atop the gate of NAB headquarters, PPP chairman's security personnel faints at the entrance while Bilawal Bhutto Zardari gestures to jiyalas during his appearance at the bureau on Wednesday. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: PPP activists clashed with police outside the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday while party leaders Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari were being grilled by NAB officials.

A large number of party activists had gathered at Nadra Chowk and clashed with police as they moved towards NAB. There, they shouted slogans against the government for what they believe to be selective and targeted ‘accountability’ of their leaders.

The police bundled up scores of workers into prison vans and brought them to various stations. According to PPP General Secretary Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, 80 workers are in police custody.

Peaceful protesters were baton charged, Nayyar Hussain Bukhari says

Mr Bukhari said the police resorted to baton charge against peaceful protesters, who had gathered in solidarity with their leaders. He added that nearly 10 workers were injured.

Known for resistance during the Zia dictatorship as well as in the 90s, PPP workers removed barriers at Nadra Chowk and when they reached NAB, a few party workers climbed on to the main gate and waved party flags.

The protesters said the PTI formed a government after making false promises and, now that it had failed to deliver, was trying to divert public attention using false cases against the leaders of opposition parties.

“The PTI, during their opposition days, held a two month dharna in Islamabad. Today they did not tolerate a few hours of our activities. This is a double standard, and we will expose this selected government at every forum,” PPP worker Akseer Ali, who travelled all the way from Swabi for the gathering, said.

Dressed in a tricolour waistcoat, Mr Ali said the PPP leadership was being targeted in the name of accountability.

Nada Nazir said that under the law, this case should have been heard in Sindh but the “Niazi government” decided to hold the hearing in Islamabad under the wrongful assumption that PPP workers would not turn up.

She added that the PPP had handled Zia’s dictatorship, and the “weak” government could not face the wrath of the jiyalas.

“We demand that all fake cases against our leadership be quashed,” Ms Nazir said.

Local PPP leader Syed Sibtul Bukhari said that a large number of activists turned up to express solidarity with the party leadership without a formal call.

“This government came into power on the basis of false promises, such as the 'five million houses' project and creating million of jobs. Now they have failed on all fronts so people are dejected – that is why they turned up here today,” he said.

Several PPP workers and police personnel were injured in the clashes, along with Geo TV cameraperson Shiraz Gardezi. A video, circulated widely on social media, also appeared to show PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar slapping a police official.

Police spokesperson Khalid Awan told Dawn that the protesters injured nine officials, and said the police will register FIRs against those who injured police personnel.

The PPP has claimed that Mir Baz Khetran, Nargis Faiz Malik and former MPA Ziaullah Afridi were amongst those arrested.

PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condemned the police action at a press conference, and said that party activists were unarmed and peaceful.

He praised the party workers “for their resilience, for their bravery and for insisting on remaining peaceful despite police brutality”, and demanded their immediate release.

He also remarked that it was strange that the PTI, which held the capital hostage for 200 days in the name of dharnas, now could not tolerate 30 minutes of activity by PPP workers.

PML-N Central Spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb also criticised the government for arresting PPP workers. In a statement, she condemned violence on political workers by the PTI-motivated police and said that enthusiastic political workers who claim a stake in the country are an asset to that country.

She added that a selected government could never understand the basics of democracy, nor can they be taught any.

The PTI, meanwhile, said that Mr Bhutto Zardari should have answered NAB’s questions and provided proof of his innocence, but he instead acted as a spokesperson for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, strengthening the Indian narrative by criticising the National Action Plan.

A statement issued by PTI Central Secretary Information Omer Sarfaraz Cheema condemned “hooliganism” by PPP workers outside NAB, stating that the chaos created by PPP workers at the behest of their leaders, who were summoned by NAB in corruption cases, was “utterly reprehensible”.

The statement said Mr Zardari and Mr Bhutto Zardari were “hell bent upon obliterating Bhutto’s legacy”, and that Mr Zardari was following in former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s footsteps in a bid to safeguard ill-gotten wealth.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019