Imran Khan’s close aide Shah Mehmood Qureshi arrested for ‘inciting violent protests’: Police

Islamabad/Lahore: Pakistan’s former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a close aide of ousted prime minister Imran Khan, was arrested on Thursday for “inciting violent protests” and threatening peace, amid the worsening political turmoil in the country that has left at least eight people dead.

A video shared by Qureshi’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party on Twitter shows plain-clothed men taking him away, with him waving at party workers before departing from the location where he was detained.

The PTI claimed that 66-year-old Qureshi was arrested by the Islamabad police in the early hours of Thursday and transferred to an “undisclosed location”.

Police said PTI leaders Qureshi, Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhry, Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, Falaknaz Chitrali, Musarrat Jamshed Cheema and Maleeka Bokhari had been arrested so far.

“Arrests had been made for inciting arson and violent protests under a well thought out plan for threatening peace,” it tweeted on Thursday.

It said all arrests were made after fulfilling the legal requirements and warned that further arrests were also expected. It also asked people to “not spread rumours and incitement amongst the public”.

Qureshi’s arrest comes two days after paramilitary forces whisked away PTI chief and former premier Khan on the orders of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) officials who barged into a room of the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday.

An anti-corruption court on Wednesday sent the 70-year-old former prime minister on an eight-day physical remand to the anti-corruption watchdog.

Khan’s dramatic arrest on Tuesday sparked widespread violent protests across Pakistan, leaving at least eight people dead and nearly 300 others injured in clashes between protesters and law enforcement agencies and prompting the authorities to deploy the army in the country’s capital Islamabad, as well as in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces on Wednesday to maintain law and order.

In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said strict action would be taken against “state’s enemies” as he slammed Khan’s PTI for violence that gripped the country after his arrest in the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case.

“The miscreants will be dealt with iron hands. They will be punished according to the law,” the prime minister said and urged PTI protesters to immediately stop “anti-state activities”.

“They attacked sensitive property as if they were enemies. I have never seen such heartbreaking scenes…We will not allow anyone to conspire. We will not let their nefarious agenda succeed,” he said.

His address came after chairing a Cabinet meeting that decided to deploy the army in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and capital Islamabad.

Reports showed that Lahore and Peshawar faced the worst situation with incidents of arson and firings.

Sharif addressed the nation hours after the Pakistan Army warned former Khan’s supporters of “severe retaliation” in the wake of attacks on its installations and asserted that it will not allow anyone to take the law into their hands while describing May 9 as a “black chapter” in the country’s history.

Enraged over the arrest of their leader in a corruption case on Tuesday, Khan’s supporters on Wednesday stormed the General Headquarters of the Army. They set the residence of the Lahore Corps Commander on fire while attacking military vehicles and installations.

“We will not allow anyone to take the law into their hands,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Army’s media wing said in a terse statement on Wednesday.

The ISPR said that on the one hand, these miscreants evoke the nation’s emotions for achieving their “limited and selfish objectives” and on the other hand, they deceive people, continuing to highlight the army’s importance.

“This is an example of hypocrisy,” it stated.

The military’s media wing said that “this group wearing a political cloak” has done what enemies could not do in 75 years, all “in the lust for power”.

May 9 will be remembered as a “black chapter” in history due to the protestors “targeting army property and installations” after the arrest of Khan, it said.

The PTI has already announced to carry on the protests until Khan is set free.

Another top PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry was apprehended by the police on Wednesday while emerging from the Supreme Court building, where he had sought refuge for over 12 hours in an attempt to evade his impending arrest.

Chaudhry arrived at the court early on Wednesday morning, knowing that law enforcement authorities were waiting to detain him. Despite remaining inside the apex court throughout the day, he was eventually taken into custody late in the evening, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

According to a report in the Dawn newspaper, the PTI has issued a rebuttal to the ISPR statement, terming it “contrary to facts” and “based on a poor understanding of ground realities”.

“The statement is a sad collection of hatred and revenge-based narratives against the most reliable, popular and largest political party of Pakistan,” it said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for peace in Pakistan.

According to Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Guterres has appealed to all parties to respect the right to peaceful assembly and has stressed the need for law enforcers to honour the law while enforcing it against Khan.

“The Secretary-General urges the authorities to respect due process and the rule of law in proceedings brought against former Prime Minister Khan,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by the Geo News.

On Wednesday, Khan was produced in the Anti-Accountability Court No. 1 presided by Judge Muhammad Bashir, the same judge who had convicted former premier Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam in a corruption case of having properties in London.

In its verdict, the court handed over Khan for an eight-day remand to the NAB.

During the hearing, the NAB lawyers requested the court to grant a 14-day remand of Khan to probe the allegations against him in the Al-Qadir Trust case in which he is accused of looting Rs 50 billion of the national treasury. But Khan’s lawyer opposed the plea and asked the judge to release him as the charges were fabricated.

In his statement, Khan told the accountability court that he was fearful for his life. “I have not been to the washroom in 24 hours,” he said.

“I am afraid I will meet the same fate as ‘Maqsood Chaprasi’,” Khan said, referring to a witness in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s money laundering case who died due to a cardiac arrest last year. Khan’s party had termed the witness’ death ‘mysterious’.

Separately, the District and Sessions Court indicted Khan in the Toshakhana case. Judge Humayun Dilawar conducted the hearing in the makeshift court set up in the New Police Guest House along with ATC No. 1.

Khan was present in the court and pleaded not guilty when the charges were read. He also refused to sign the court documents, according to Geo News channel.

The case was filed last year by the Election Commission of Pakistan and Khan had skipped several hearings in the past months. The charges are about the allegation that Khan concealed the proceeds of sale from the state gifts.

Khan was ousted from power in April after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.

He is the only Pakistani prime minister to be ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament.