KARACHI - The PPP yesterday alleged it was being victimised politically as one of its key figures was sent on 90-day remand into Rangers custody for “financing terrorism” while arrest warrants were issued for two other stalwarts in graft cases.
Reacting strongly, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah threatened to “wage a war” if federal institutions targeted his party co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari.
An anti-corruption court Thursday issued arrest warrants for former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and one of his senior ministers in a dozen of new graft cases against them.
The same day, an anti-terrorism court remanded Dr Asim into Rangers custody for three months. The charge-sheet said the former PPP petroleum minister had been involved in “terror and violence financing, misappropriation of funds for supporting militancy and other criminal activities”.
The anti-corruption court ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to produce Gilani and ex-commerce minister Amin Fahim on September 10.
Gilani, who was prime minister from 2008 to 2012, can appeal to a higher court for bail, but Fahim is unlikely to appear as he is receiving cancer treatment in Britain.
The court orders came after the PPP pair failed to appear in court to defend themselves against 12 fresh corruption cases presented by the FIA, taking the total number of such cases against them to 24. They were on bail for the 12 previous cases of taking millions of dollars in bribes while in power.
An anti-crime operation has been underway in the port city of Karachi, drawing ire among political parties which allege their workers are being singled out.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the major opposition party in the parliament, accused that its “enemies” were carrying out political victimisation through state agencies.
Both Gilani and Fahim said the cases were an attempt to stifle the party and gag former president Asif Ali Zardari, who has been critical of the outsized role of the country’s powerful army.
Zardari phoned his party bigwigs and directed them to stand firm against such “tactics”. He condemned the arrests as “illegal” and asked his party persons to chart a powerful protest plan to foil the “plot concocted to press PPP to the wall”.
“Only Sindh, the province being ruled by the PPP, is being targeted. Has corruption been eliminated from Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?” Khursheed Shah asked while talking to media in Islamabad.
“Any action against Asif Ali Zardari will result in the start of a war. So a decision should be made whether to keep Pakistan intact or destabilise it,” Shah warned.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman also said the charges were politically motivated. “It seems a revenge campaign is being carried out against the PPP,” she said. However, Sherry added that her party would prefer using political forums to get their protest registered.
Former information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said, “Everyone knows our past. We don’t have a history of terrorism. We are victim of terrorism, indeed. One can level any allegation on the PPP but not of terrorism.”
He said they were not afraid of appearing in the court since they did “nothing wrong”. He said they would first raise their voice in the parliament and, if went unheard, they could go for a “war”. Kaira said that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was taking on PPP only.
Meanwhile, Dr Asim’s mother filed a petition in Sindh High Court challenging his arrest. Her lawyer Maulvi Iqbal Haider told the court that the former minister was an esteemed politician and his detention was unlawful as he did not have a criminal record.
Asim’s wife Dr Zareen wrote a letter to the Sindh Inspector General to make a request for meeting with the former minister. “My husband suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and relies on medication. Allow me to meet him in order to monitor his condition,” read the letter.
Former prime minister Gilani’s four-year tenure came to an abrupt end after the Supreme Court convicted him of contempt for failing to ask Swiss authorities to re-open a corruption case against former president Zardari.
As commerce minister, Fahim was accused of using the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan to award subsidies to companies that existed only on paper, apparently with the support of Gilani.
The FIA and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had begun their inquires into the corruption charges while Gilani was still prime minister, but the cases were only registered after his government had left power.
The PPP ruled from 2008 to 13 but suffered a heavy defeat in general elections that led to the country’s first democratic transfer of power. The cases are the first of their kind against the PPP in a sweeping crackdown on violence and corruption spearheaded by the military this year.
Critics accuse the military, which has a history of launching coups, of seeking to weaken the civilian political system in place since 2008. The military says the crackdown is necessary to break the cycle of corruption and violence in Karachi.
It has so far targeted mostly opposition politicians and not the ruling party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The action came a day after Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif had directed the authorities to break the “evil nexus between terrorism, criminal mafias, violence and corruption” to achieve the objective of ensuring a peaceful and terror-free Karachi.