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Pakistan police arrest vice-chair of ex-PM Khan's party

August 19, 2023

Shah Mehmood Qureshi was detained shortly after giving a press conference in which he slammed authorities for seeking to delay the election. Some experts think the vote, due in November, could be pushed to next year.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad on June 25, 2020
Shah Mehmood Qureshi is vice-chair of former PM Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf partyImage: Salahuddin/REUTERS

Pakistan opposition leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi was detained on Saturday, a spokesman said, part of a widening crackdown on the former ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Qureshi, who served as foreign minister under ousted prime minister Imran Khan, was arrested in the capital Islamabad shortly after giving a press conference in which he vowed to challenge any delay to the country's election in the courts.

Party spokesman Zulfi Bukhari told Reuters the specific reason for the detention of Qureshi was not immediately clear.

Bukhari, however, condemned the arrest on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, saying he was "arrested for doing a press conference and reaffirming PTI stance against all tyranny and pre-poll rigging that is going on currently in Pakistan."

Dawn newspaper reported that Qureshi was arrested under the Official Secrets Act in connection with a case of a missing diplomatic cable that Khan had previously said was part of a conspiracy to remove him from office.

The newspaper cited Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti as saying the arrest had nothing to do with the press conference.

Qureshi warns of constitutional breach

"It will be unconstitutional if the 90 days deadline [for the election to take place] is breached," Qureshi had told the press conference. He said the party planned to contest any delay at the Supreme Court.

Authorities have made widespread arrests targeting Khan's party in recent months, crushing his grassroots power by rounding up thousands of his supporters as well as senior leaders.

Khan, a former international cricket star turned politician, was jailed earlier this month after being convicted of graft.

The case was one of more than 200 he has faced since being ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. Khan denies any wrongdoing.

Imran Khan's jail sentence: What are Pakistanis saying?

Elections should be held before November

Pakistan is due to hold elections within 90 days of parliament being dissolved last week, by November.

But there has been speculation for months that they could be delayed as the nation grapples with constitutional, political and economic crises.

Data from the latest national census was finally published earlier this month, and the outgoing government said the election commission may need up to six months to redraw constituency boundaries.

The election commission said on Thursday that new constituencies would be finalized by December 14, state television reported. After that, the commission will confirm an election date.

Could elections be delayed until February?

Electoral experts have suggested that the vote could be pushed back several months, possibly until February.

Khan is barred from contesting any election for five years, although many politicians — including outgoing prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and his brother former premier Nawaz Sharif — have in the past had convictions overturned to make a comeback.

Sharif's shaky coalition government that replaced Khan dissolved parliament earlier this month, with a caretaker government led by little-known politician Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar sworn in to lead the country until elections.

Political analysts say that if the vote doesn't take place within the time limit, the military could consolidate control of the country. The military has run Pakistan for three decades in its 76-year existence.

Caretakers are usually limited to overseeing elections, but Kakar's set-up is the most empowered in Pakistan's history thanks to legislation that allows it to make policy decisions on economic matters.

The move is ostensibly aimed at keeping on track a nine-month $3 billion International Monetary Fund bailout secured in June.

mm/jcg (AFP, Reuters)