Independent : Imran Khan released with 3,000 political prisoners

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Imran Khan released with 3,000 political prisoners

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent | November 22, 2007

The former cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan was among more than 3,000 political opponents of President Pervez Musharraf released yesterday as Pakistan's government hinted the military leader could stand down as head of the armed forces within days.

Mr Khan was released from a jail in southern Punjab where he had been held since being arrested last week after appearing before students in Lahore.

Mr Khan had previously been on the run in an effort to avoid the crackdown launched by General Musharraf in the aftermath of his declaration of a state of emergency more than two weeks ago.

"We're all very relieved, especially since this means he can now end his hunger strike," his ex-wife, Jemima Khan, told the Associated Press. "He's keen to make the point that although he's free, there are many more innocent people who are still in jail... he'll now be able to protest more actively again."

On state television, the country's Law Minister, Afzal Hayder, announced that the government had freed 5,634 lawyers and political activists. He said 623 people remained in government custody and that they too would be released soon.

Meanwhile the Attorney General, Malik Mohammed Qayyum, claimed that General Musharraf would go ahead with his pledge to stand down as head of the armed forces. "It may happen on Saturday... I know the President, and he will honour his commitment," he said.

A spokesman for the Pakistan's People's Party, led by the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said that he doubted the general's claims. "President Musharraf has made such promises before the nation and the international community in the past as well, and we will comment when he actually steps down as the army chief," said Senator Farhatullah Babar.

The moves by General Musharraf follow considerable international pressure, including a face-to-face meeting with a senior envoy of the Bush administration, which has provided Pakistan with more than $11bn in aid since September 2001.