Former Pakistani President and the co-chairperson of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari (2L) arrives for his bail appeal at Islamabad High Court. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Soon after the arrest of former president Asif Ali Zardari by the anti-graft body in the fake accounts case in Islamabad, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders and opposition members in the National Assembly criticised the action and demanded his release.

Bilawal calls for calm after Zardari’s arrest

Zardari’s son and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, however, urged party supporters to remain peaceful. “The people have never accepted controversial court verdicts,” he said. “The PPP believes in the rule of law despite biased court decisions,” he said.

Zardari’s daughter says the arrest will not silence truth

His daughter, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, who shared a hug with her father before he left with the officials, said the arrest would not silence truth. “This cowardly selected government thinks throwing opposition into jail will legitimise it. No case, no conviction, no plausible cause. Arresting Asif Ali Zardari will not silence the voice of truth. He was vindicated before and he will be vindicated again,” she said on Twitter.

Reaction of PPP leaders

During the National Assembly (NA) session on Monday, a PPP lawmaker, Shazia Marri, termed the arrest “political victimisation”. She claimed that opposition members were facing discrimination, adding that “NAB is harassing Asif Ali Zardari.” She asked NA Speaker Asad Qaiser to issue Zardari’s production orders to ensure his presence of Zardari in the Assembly.

Expressing his shock over the arrest, PPP leader Khursheed Shah said the party would not be weakened because of the ‘revengeful actions’. “Zardari has bravely faced similar cases before and will contest these atrocities,” he stated.

Senior PPP leader and former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, said Zardari remained at the time of arrest and “did not resist the arrest all.” PPP has called a consultative meeting to discuss the future legal options of Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur after their bail pleas were rejected.

Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif’s reaction

The opposition has frequently accused Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of intentionally targeting political opponents. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and leader of the Opposition in NA, Shehbaz Sharif said “Zardari has presented himself before NAB on every occasion and has not used delaying tactics. NAB should have appreciated this. There was no need for an arrest.”

Government’s response

Reacting to the arrest of former president, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah said that the government “had nothing to do” with Asif Zardari’s arrest as these are mere court orders. The decision, se said, was taken by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which is “an independent institution and the government cannot interfere in its affairs.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi echoed the interior minister’s views and said that NAB being an independent institution “has no connection with the government”. He further said that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had always maintained that “NAB should not be used for witch hunting” and that accountability should be held “across the board”.

Zardari is the second leading Pakistani politician to be arrested on the charges on money laundering after Nawaz Sharif who was removed from office by the Supreme Court over corruption allegations and is currently in prison. Sharif and Zardari are longtime political rivals but now their parties have joined hands against PTI government and are threatening to launch protest march to dislodge the government.