Mohammad Safdar, son-in-law of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Mohammad Safdar, son-in-law of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, gestures as he speaks to journalists after a court granted him bail, outside a court in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. Pakistani police briefly detained Safdar accusing him of leading a crowd in a chant against the military at the tomb of the country's founder. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Pakistan’s military Tuesday announced the suspension of a number of intelligence officers and troops accused by opposition leaders last month of abducting a provincial police chief to pressure him to arrest the son-in-law of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

In a statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated that the decision for their suspension has been taken on the basis of recommendations of the Court of Inquiry. The concerned officers will be removed from their current assignments for further departmental proceedings and disposal at GHQ, the army headquarters, the ISPR statement said. The inquiry was carried out on the orders of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The unusual action by the military comes three weeks after Sharif’s son-in-law, Mohammad Safdar, was briefly detained after opposition parties held a rally in the port city of Karachi against Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Safdar, a retired army captain who is also an opposition politician, was taken from a hotel room, where he was staying with his wife. The arrest came after he visited the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who led the movement for independence from Britain in 1947 and is a revered figure in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

While at the tomb, Safdar led a crowd in chanting: “Give respect to the vote!” The slogan is viewed in Pakistan as criticism of the country’s military, which has ruled the country of 220 million people - directly or indirectly - for most of its history.

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League opposition party at the time insisted Safdar was arrested only after troops abducted provincial police chief Mushtaq Mehar to pressure him to sign orders for Safdar’s arrest.

Neither Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence nor the paramilitary Rangers at the time commented and it was unclear how many intelligence agents and troops were suspended.

Several police officers last month responded by applying for a leave of absence over the alleged mistreatment of the police chief. It prompted Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to order a probe into the matter.

In Tuesday’s statement, the military did not acknowledge Mehar’s abduction saying only that the troops and intelligence officers were reacting to the “desecration” of the Jinnah tomb. The statement said the officers “were under increasing public pressure to ensure prompt action as per the law. Assessing the response of police authorities against this developing yet volatile situation to be slow… the concerned officers decided to act, rather overzealously,” the ISPR statement said. “They were experienced enough to have acted more prudently and could have avoided creating an unwarranted situation that led to the misunderstanding between the two state institutions,” it added.

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from the Sindh police but Safdar’s politician wife Maryam Nawaz led a rally in the north in which participants shouted: “Give respect to the vote!”

Sharif, Safdar’s father-in-law, has had a long, uneasy relationship with the military. On Tuesday, he took to Twitter to reject the military action, saying it amounts to scapegoating junior officers and shielding “the real culprits.”

Sharif served as Pakistan’s prime minister three times. A court in 2017 ousted him from power over corruption allegations. He has been staying in London since November after being allowed to receive medical treatment abroad.

- with inputs from AP