A large number of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) workers were arrested following clashes with police on Wednesday ahead of the scheduled appearance of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former president Asif Ali Zardari before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigators at the old headquarters in Rawalpindi. Security was tight in the twin cities prior to Bilawal and Zardari’s appearance before a combined investigation team, with roads leading to the Rawalpindi office sealed off. Clashes broke out between police and the PPP workers when police did not allow the charged yet peaceful activists to receive their leaders outside the NAB office. A large number of workers were wounded during the scuffle while some policemen also received injuries. The police charged the party workers with batons and detained scores of them. PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said more than 200 party workers were arrested and at least 50 others were missing. PPP Secretary General Farhatullah Babar and Senator Behramand Tangi also got involved in a scuffle with the police. As Zardari and Bilawal’s visit to NAB concluded, the PPP chairperson got out of his car to address his supporters and the media, accusing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of deliberately targeting its political opponents. “This isn’t a system of accountability. This is a system of political engineering. This is a system of the politics of revenge,” he said. Bilawal said one of the cases he has been questioned about dates back to when he was a newly born baby. The transfer of the cases to Rawalpindi from Karachi shows bad intentions, he claimed. “These things aren’t new to me. I have seen this all as a little boy along with my mother visiting these accountability offices and jails,” he said, adding that the latest campaign against him and his fellow party leaders is intended to reverse the provincial autonomy and divert regional funds to the federal government. The PPP chief said he always received a notice from NAB after addressing a rally or a press conference. “If they (government, NAB) are so courageous, they should form a joint investigation team to probe terror financing and benami prime minister and rigging in the 2018 general elections … unfortunately, this is not happening,” he stated. “Those in government are the same people who held the capital hostage for 200 days and sabotaged the visit of Chinese president back then. Now they are lecturing us, we didn’t cross a line … we didn’t provoke … we have video evidence showing how police attacked the workers first,” he added. “I am not worried or concerned. I am happy to present myself for a free and fair investigation in accordance with the rule of law. Unfortunately, what we have seen in the last six months is a manipulation, undermining and disregard for how rule of law should function,” Bilawal said, and stressed that he had not given any protest call nor had he requested anyone to be present at the NAB headquarters. “I received the NAB notice on Monday and did not have time to plan anything,” he argued. “But, I would like to salute the workers of PPP for their bravery, resilience, and I demand their immediate release and no charges be filed against anyone arrested undemocratically and unnecessarily,” he said, warning that if the arrested workers are not released, the party will devise a future strategy. Lamenting his party’s ‘mistake’ of not amending the NAB law when it was in power, Bilawal said, “This was our weakness that we did not change this black law which was introduced by a dictator.” “PPP will wipe the constitution of every law made by a dictator. We will right the wrong come our government,” he pledged. Taking a swipe at the ruling PTI, he claimed some ministers part of the government worked with banned organizations and demanded that they be removed from their offices. He vowed to continue raising his voice against social injustice, human rights violation and banned outfits. “We don’t fear their [NAB] notices,” he said. Bilawal said he does not think this was a NAB case as it concerns private transactions and not public money. “The banking court is the appropriate forum. It is unfortunate NAB is being used like this. We respect rule of law and judiciary but this is not NAB’s case. It is a joke that I am being summoned by the anti-graft watchdog,” he added. The PPP chairman said he is not afraid of the incumbent ‘dummy’ government and will fight against it. He said PPP believes in the supremacy of the constitution. Speaking on his NAB appearance, Bilawal said he was less than a year old when he was made a shareholder in the company mentioned in the case. “Since that day, I have not had any involvement with this company.” The PPP chairman said the then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar had said he was innocent in this case and asked under whose directions his name was included in the JIT. Bilawal stressed that the case has broken local and international legal precedents when it comes to jurisdiction. “This case is from Karachi. Bank accounts are in Karachi, alleged accused are from Karachi but I don’t know why Rawalpindi becomes a platform for us,” he wondered. The PPP chief stressed that a message is being sent that the government doesn’t tolerate constructive criticism. “I am warning that if they continue to suppress dissent, they will be responsible for the consequences.” Bilawal said NAB officers conducted themselves in a very professional manner and were doing what they were told to. “They only questioned me for five minutes and then gave a questionnaire,” he added. “Is it democracy or dictatorship where workers have been barred from meeting their leaders and registering a peaceful protest against interrogation of party high-ups in false cases,” Senator Mehramand Tangi questioned while talking to Daily Times outside the NAB headquarters. “I reached early in the morning at Rawalpindi NAB office and asked police who was present there to allow PPP workers to receive their leaders,” he said. “I also told police that barring party workers will provoke them which may create a law and order situation,” he said. “However, they didn’t pay any heed to my advice. And the result is before you,” he added. Former senator Farhatullah Babar said a large number of party leaders including former minister Mir Baz Khetran, MPA Zameen Khan, former MPA Ziaullah Bangash and others were arrested by police. The arrested PPP workers have been lodged in different police stations of the twin cities, he said, and added that the party has arranged a forum of lawyers who will secure their release. PPP Secretary General Nayyar Bukhari, while condemning the arrests, called on the authorities to immediately release the workers who were peacefully waiting for their leaders to welcome them and express solidarity with them. PPP leader Saeed Ghani, who was among those gathered outside the NAB office, also condemned the arrests and said that his party wants a transparent and unbiased accountability. He also demanded strict action against the police officers who allegedly assaulted some workers before arresting them. Meanwhile Bakhtawar Bhutto took to Twitter and demurred over summoning of his brother Bilawal and father Asif Ali Zardari by NAB. She regretted that her family has not been provided justice for her grandfather and former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s murder. “On whose authority/what grounds does NAB (a body set up by a dictator to remove elected govs) summon @BBhuttoZardari? For criticising this Puppet gov? For speaking out against their supported banned organisations? For demanding pro extremist ministers from their gov be sacked?!” she posted on her Twitter handle, adding that there was no difference between this government and the dictatorship of general Zia-ul-Haq. Published in Daily Times, March 21st 2019.