November 26, 2015 / 1:15 PM / 2 years ago

Prominent Pakistani opposition figure charged with aiding terrorists

Police and Rangers soldiers escort Asim Hussain (C) into Sindh High Court in Karachi, Pakistan November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani court ordered a prominent opposition politician close to former president Asif Ali Zardari into police custody on Thursday on charges of aiding terrorists in a case his party has called politically motivated.

Dr. Asim Hussain, a petroleum minister in the former Pakistan People’s Party-led government, is accused of harboring and providing medical treatment to militants and criminals at his hospital in the port city of Karachi.

A longtime party leader, he is a close aide to Zardari.

Police on Wednesday formally registered a case against Hussain under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws. He was originally arrested in August and had earlier been held by the paramilitary Rangers force for 90 days.

The PPP has condemned his arrest - which comes amid an ongoing military-driven crackdown in Karachi - and said previously he was innocent. Party leaders were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

The case has renewed accusations that Pakistan’s powerful military is seeking to weaken civilian parties in the country’s largest and wealthiest city.

According to the police report filed against Hussain, he confessed during investigation that his two hospitals treated militants, criminals belonging to Karachi’s notorious gangs and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party, accused by authorities of political corruption and violence.

“Knowingly breaking the law, wanted accused and terrorists were provided refuge at the hospitals,” the report said, quoting Hussain’s confession. Reuters has a copy of the document.

It also said Hussain had confessed to misusing his position as petroleum minister to make illegal appointments and grant contracts illegally.

On Thursday, a handcuffed Hussain was brought to an anti-terrorism court in an armored vehicle escorted by seven police and Rangers vans.

Most of the hundreds of people targeted by paramilitary forces in recent months on accusations of political corruption and violence have belonged to the MQM party, which has dominated Karachi politics for decades.

Karachi, a metropolis of 20 million that hosts the stock exchange and central bank, is beset by armed violence. Many of its sprawling slums are no-go areas for outsiders.

Editing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Sanjeev Miglani

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