ISLAMABAD - Pakistan People’s Party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari yesterday demanded immediate release of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif saying the government was panicked due to the alliance of the opposition parties.

He strongly condemned the arrest of Shehbaz Sharif and claimed Prime Minister Imran Khan regime was disturbed after the announcement of the Pakistan Democratic Movement. He said the government was resorting to “highhandedness against the opposition leaders.”

In a statement, Bilawal said that sending National Accountability Bureau notices and making arrests of opposition leaders showed that the government “is scared of the unity and demanded immediate release of Shehbaz Sharif and an end to use of NAB as a tool for political victimisation.”

The PPP chairman said that Pervez Musharraf was facing heinous and serious charges but no notice was issued nor was he arrested.

 “Serious allegations are also levelled against Imran Khan’s sister and his special assistants but they are never summoned,” he added.

Bilawal made it clear that government could not impede people’s resistance by targeting the opposition leaders and challenged the regime to do whatever it could but the PDM’s struggle will not stop.

Earlier in the day, opposition leader was arrested in a money laundering case heard by the Lahore High Court. The NAB officials took him into custody from the court premises after his bail plea was rejected.  

The arrest came as opposition parties have reignited efforts to remove PM Khan from office, vowing this month to launch a protest movement in the coming weeks demanding the government's resignation. 

PM Khan was elected in 2018 on promises to rein in corruption and build a welfare state. But since taking power, the former cricketer has struggled to deliver on his campaign vows amid economic headwinds.

PPP Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman also condemned Shehbaz Sharif’s arrest. The Parliamentary Leader of the PPP in the Senate said: “NAB is being used as a tool of political victimisation, and its powers are both structured, and exercised, in a way that serves the PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) agenda of selective accountability.”

She added: “It has been one year since Syed Khursheed Shah is in jail and no charges on him have been established yet. Similarly, Asif Ali Zardari is being summoned to the courts weekly during the Covid-19 pandemic, while federal ministers who have been identified for NAB cases are given a clean chit. If this is not the politics of revenge and witch hunting of opponents, then what is? Be it the BRT project, Sugar Commission or Malam Jaba scandal, they are being allowed to travel abroad or only their ministries are changed.”

The PPP leader said the federal government’s revenge politics had suddenly surged after the All Parties Conference and its timing was not lost on anyone. 

“By such actions, the federal government is only exposing its ulterior motives. Was the National Assembly Speaker informed that Opposition leader is being arrested? These tactics are being used to muzzle opposition voices but we will not let them disrespect the sanctity of the Parliament like this,” she said.

Sherry Rehman said unbiased organizations like the Pakistan Bar Council and Supreme Court Bar Association had condemned NAB’s unlawful arrests and abuses and even Human Rights Watch has taken notice of this.

Referring to the Supreme Court’s 2019 judgment in the Saad Rafique case on NAB, which questioned NAB’s legitimacy, she said: “NAB’s job is not just to make cases and run media trials in long investigative periods where even media moguls that question the government are not spared, like Mir Shakeel, it needs to provide evidence for those who it has made cases against.” 

NAB’s authority, she said, was only limited for targeting and harassing opposition members which was in complete disregard of the constitutional principle of fairness. 

“It seems that NAB is following the principle of selective accountability, while conveniently ignoring the conduct of those allied with the government,” she added.

The lawmaker said the opposition was being pressurised and targeted after APC but “we will not let their witch hunt derail our plans.”