ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police arrested a prominent political figure in an overnight raid on his home near Islamabad days after he accused the former president of the country of plotting to kill ex-prime minister Imran Khan, officials said Thursday.
The latest government move is likely to deepen political turmoil at a time when the government is facing one of its worst economic crises and is in talks to convince the International Monetary Fund to revive a $6 billion bailout.
Police are expected to bring Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who served as interior minister in Khan's government, before a judge to get permission to question him for any evidence supporting his allegation against former President Asif Ali Zardari.
Islamabad police confirmed the arrest, saying Ahmed, who is the president of his small Awami Muslim League party, was in custody. Ahmed is a staunch critic of the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Ahmed’s nephew, Rashid Shafiq, told reporters that dozens of police officers forcibly entered his uncle’s house on the outskirts of Islamabad before dawn and arrested him, although Ahmed had already obtained a protective bail.
Police say Ahmed's arrest came after a complaint from Inayat-ur Rehman, a senior politician from Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party. Rehman told police that Ahmed was inciting people to violence by levelling a serious allegation against Zardari.
Khan has accused Zardari of plotting to kill him by hiring an assassin from an unnamed military group. Zardari denies that and has said he will sue Khan.
Ahmed’s arrest comes days after police in Lahore detained a senior leader from Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Party, Fawad Chaudhry, on charges of threatening the chief of the elections board and other officials.
Chaudhry was released on bail on orders from the court the previous day.
Shortly after Ahmed’s arrest, Khan took to Twitter to denounce his arrest.
Footage released later by Ahmed’s supporters showed police taking Ahmed to a hospital for medical examination, as officers alleged that the man was drunk when arrested. Speaking to reporters at an Islamabad hospital, Ahmed denied the charge.
The arrest of Ahmed was a setback to Khan, who retains a robust grassroots following after he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. He now leads the opposition.
Meanwhile, police also arrested a TV anchorperson, Imran Riaz Khan, in Lahore. It was unclear on what charges he was taken into custody. Riaz Khan is not related to the ex-premier, but he is one of his staunch supporters in the electronic media. Months ago, police had said that they were seeking his arrest for hate speech against the country's institutions.
A former cricket star-turned-Islamist politician, Khan was wounded in a gun attack while leading a rally toward Islamabad last November. One of Khan’s supporters was killed and several others were wounded in the shooting. Since then, Khan has been leading an antigovernment campaign from his home in Lahore, the capital in the eastern Punjab province. He wants the government to agree to a snap vote. The government has rejected that demand, saying the elections will be held on time later this year.