ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities on Wednesday arrested former cricket star Imran Khan, one of the last major opposition leaders to remain at large since the military-led government declared emergency rule and began widespread detentions. A former ambassador to the United States, Abida Hussain, was also arrested.
Khan, founder of the Movement for Justice Party, has wide support among student activists in Pakistan. His seizure came one day after former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest in Lahore. Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was deported from Pakistan last month just hours after he returned from exile.
On Wednesday, Bhutto intensified her attempts to reach out to disparate opposition figures, including Sharif, whose elected government was overthrown in a 1999 coup led by Pervez Musharraf.
Bhutto had held quiet power-sharing negotiations with President Musharraf for several months. But on Tuesday, she declared she would not work with him and suggested her Pakistan People’s Party would boycott parliamentary elections in January.
“I am now working with all political leaders, including Nawaz Sharif. We feel all the political forces should come together,” Bhutto said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We may work together or we may work side by side. The issue is that we both agree there should be democracy. The important thing is that Pakistan is returned to its people, that martial law is ended, that General Musharraf steps down.”
Musharraf, meanwhile, pleaded his case with foreign news outlets, saying that Pakistan risked chaos if he were to resign. He would not say when emergency rule would end, but did tell the Associated Press that he expects to step down as army chief by the end of the month and serve his next presidential term as a civilian.
“I take decisions in Pakistan’s interest and I don’t take ultimatums from anyone,” he told the news agency at his army office in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.
Musharraf has repeatedly said he plans to leave the army. But in a country where politics has been dominated by military leaders for nearly half of its 60-year history, critics doubt he will shed his uniform.
With the nuclear-armed nation’s political future growing increasingly tense, the White House has also acknowledged the growing turmoil in a country that has been key to U.S. counterterrorism efforts. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is due in Pakistan this week to urge Musharraf to end the emergency. Negroponte has warned against cutting aid to an “indispensable” ally.