PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry flashes the victory sign while leaving a court in Lahore Cantt; while, his wife Hiba Khan talks to the media in Islamabad.—Arif Ali / Online
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry flashes the victory sign while leaving a court in Lahore Cantt; while, his wife Hiba Khan talks to the media in Islamabad.—Arif Ali / Online

• Mazari links arrest with rising ‘fascism’
• Rationale behind ‘unjustifiable’ move questioned
• Marriyum distances PDM from arrest ‘made on ECP complaint’

ISLAMABAD: The arrest of PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry elicited condemnation from across the political spectrum, as a number of journalists, politicians, and members of civil society criticised law enforcers for whisking away the former information minister from his house in Lahore.

At a press conference alongside Mr Chaudhry’s wife, PTI leaders Shireen Mazari and Zulfi Bukhari termed the detention ‘fascism’ by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government at the helm of affairs in Islamabad. Ms Mazari urged President Arif Alvi and Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial to take notice of “illegal happenings” in Pakistan.

She defended Mr Chaudhry’s decision to dub the ECP a “munshi” (clerk) and questioned how the use of a derogatory term for someone could warrant an arrest. “Let alone keeping him at CTD lockup? Terrorists roam free but political opponents arrested,” she added.

The former human rights minister chided the ECP official for invoking terrorism charges against the PTI leader and termed the FIR “most ridiculous”. Is calling someone a ‘clerk’ an act of terror, wondered Ms Mazari. She also questioned why was Fawad blindfolded and handcuffed.

Ms Mazari asked the judiciary as to how long would the courts remain silent. How long would this violence on politicians be tolerated, she asked.

Zulfi Bukhari said Fawad was arrested for questioning the appointment of caretaker CM Mohsin Naqvi in Punjab. He said Fawad always supported democracy.

PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi, who was instrumental in forging an alliance between Q-League and PTI last year, said his party would stand with Fawad. “Spoke to @fawadchaudhry wife. Glad to see her in high spirits. We will stand with them. They picked the wrong person to mess with.”

‘Not justifiable’

Journalist Mazhar Abbas also took exception to the arrest of the ex-minister and said it could not be justified. “No justification in the arrest of key PTI leader Fawad Ch. What have they achieved so far in the cases of Azam Swati, Shahbaz Gill or in the cases against journalists. You have a right to disagree but historically such actions only go against government of the day,” he warned.

Journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi also called out the government for filing a sedition charge against Mr Chaudhry, saying his statement targeting the ECP members did not warrant such a heinous charge. “When you’re throwing every law on the books, it smells of political revenge and overreach,” Ms Shamsi said in a tweet.

Political commentator Michael Kugelman said that had Islamabad fought inflation and debt with as much rigour as it is fighting the opposition, it would have vanquished the economic crisis many moons ago.

Ex-senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said that the ECP has become so “touchy” that it is filing police complaints over statements made by politicians. “Such actions will damage what is left of its reputation.” He asked that when the commission has powers of contempt, then “why get him arrested by the police”? “Is the Election Commission now a sensitive institution?” he quipped.

‘ECP is the complainant’

Meanwhile, the government tried to distance itself away from the arrest as Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the case was registered by the Election Commission and not the government.

PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique advised PTI leaders to opt for apology instead of threats and mudslinging against institutions. He urged politicians to improve the political atmosphere to find a solution to the prevailing crisis. He said to celebrate arrests or pain of opponents was petty and urged them to differentiate between criticism and threats.

The arrest was also condemned by the Supreme Court Bar Association. A statement by the apex body said, “Besides the fact that he [Fawad] is a former federal minister, he is also an advocate [of] Supreme Court and [a] member of this bar association. Hence, this association views his arrest with grave concern, particularly the way he was maltreated and handcuffed, is extremely humiliating for legal fraternity and highly condemnable.”

‘Angry response’ abroad

In Washington, the arrest of Fawad Chaudhry and rumours of Mr Khan’s imminent arrest resulted in an angry response, as dozens of PTI supporters gathered outside a restaurant urged Pakistani authorities not to lay hands on the former PM.

The crowd dispersed after chanting slogans against the PDM government and demanding early elections in Pakistan.

The political situation was also raised at a US State Department news briefing earlier this week when Ned Price was asked how Washington would react if Mr Khan returned to power. “We are, of course, open to and would work with any elected government in Pakistan. Pakistan is a partner of ours; we share a number of interests,” Mr Price said.

However, he said ties “would ultimately be a question of the type of policy” that the next government might pursue.

Anwar Iqbal in Washington also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023

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