Pakistani government forces conducted raids and arrested hundreds of opposition members, including leaders of the country’s lawyers’ movement, prior to a protest rally led March 11 by former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif. Among those targeted were lawyers’ movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan and Imran Khan, founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Following the raids, many opposition politicians and party leaders—including Khan, who avoided arrest—went into hiding.
At the rally, Sharif had harsh words for Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, calling on supporters of the opposition parties to take to the streets with the party and the lawyers’ movement in a march to the capital, reminiscent of the long march held last summer. Sharif also equated the movements of the Zardari government against opposition members with the conduct of former president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
The arrests and rally come as Pakistan teeters on the edge of political instability following last month’s Supreme Court ruling that barred Sharif from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. The Supreme Court’s controversial decision followed continued turmoil over the country’s judiciary, which has split the PML-N and Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), formerly coalition partners. Sharif and the PML-N have urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, ousted after then-president Musharraf declared emergency rule in November 2007. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan’s bar, insists he is still chief justice under the Pakistani constitution. (London Times, March 12; Jurist, March 11)
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