ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A former prime minister of Pakistan was arrested Thursday, as the government escalated what it describes as an anti-corruption campaign that opposition parties have denounced as a political vendetta.
The former leader, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who remains a senior figure in the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, was arrested at a highway toll plaza while on his way to a party news conference in the city of Lahore and presented with a warrant accusing him of involvement in “corruption and corrupt practices.” Authorities did not immediately offer more details.
The current prime minister, Imran Khan, who won last year’s general elections on a strong anti-corruption platform, has repeatedly vowed that he will arrest politicians involved in corrupt practices. Opposition figures have accused him of using the anti-corruption campaign to distract from his handling of Pakistan’s economic difficulties, troubles for which he blames previous governments.
Abbasi is a loyalist of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He was named prime minister in August 2017 after Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court after a corruption inquiry and held that office until May 2018.
Khan’s government is grappling with soaring inflation, a crippling balance of payments crisis, a depreciating currency and low exports. The country recently accepted a $6 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. As part of that process, the government has drastically cut back on subsidies and has increased direct and indirect taxes. Pakistan’s central bank raised its main interest rate this week to 13.25% from 12.25%.
Inflation has caused public unease, and the government’s efforts to increase its tax base are facing resistance. Last week, traders across the country held a strike to protest the austerity measures.