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Kashmir azaadi dreamers’ first patron, Sheikh Rashid arrested in Pakistan

Pakistan’s former interior minister Sheikh Rashid who sheltered Kashmiri separatists including Yasin Malik has been jailed

In a major development, the Police in Pakistan have arrested prominent politician, Awami Muslim League (AML) chief, former Minister and an ally of ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, from Murree Motorway early in the morning on Thursday. However, his nephew and former interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Shafiq claimed that the AML chief was lifted from his Rawalpindi residence.

According to the Pakistani Police, Sheikh Rashid, who served as a Minister in different governments, had been arrested over an FIR filed against him by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Rawalpindi Division President Raja Inayat Ur Rehman at Islamabad’s Aabpara Police Station. It alleged that Sheikh Rashid had indulged in “badmouthing” against the PPP co-Chairman and former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. The FIR complained that Sheikh Rashid had “caused a permanent danger” to Zardari and his family.

Sheikh Rashid is claimed to be the first politician who provided shelter and other support to the JKLF recruits since their first groups were launched for guerrilla training in 1984. In 2007, former JKLF activist Abdul Ahad Waza revealed in an exclusive interview to Daily Excelsior that he was among the first militant recruits who were accommodated in Sheikh Rashid’s “safe house” near Rawalpindi in 1984.

In 1988, Waza was arrested by the Police in Kupwara district for hatching a plot of assassination against the then Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah. However, he was released after the Police failed to establish charges against him. Later, Waza quit the JKLF and for some years worked with the senior Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone’s Peoples Conference. He told the Jammu-based daily that a number of JKLF recruit groups were inducted and trained and lodged at Sheikh Rashid’s “safe house” near Rawalpindi from 1984 to 1988. According to him, Waza was in the first group in 1984 and Yasin Malik in the 6th group in 1988.

Waza’s interview went viral in those days of the poor internet but it was not contradicted, either by the JKLF or by Sheikh Rashid, then Minister of Railways in Prime Minister Showkat Aziz’s government. Pervez Musharraf was the President.

Sheikh Rashid also functioned as Minister of Railways and Minister of Interior in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government in 2018-2022. Upon Imran Khan’s exit, Rana Sanaullah was appointed as Sheikh Rashid’s successor in the Ministry of Interior in Shahbaz Sharif’s government.

Sheikh Rashid was Member of National Assembly from 1985 to 1999, 2002 to 2007 and 2013 to 2018. He also functioned as Federal Minister of Industries, Minister of Industries, Minister of Culture, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Youth Affairs, Minister of Overseas Pakistanis and Minister of Labour and Manpower in Nawaz Sharif’s governments and was Minister of Information and Broadcasting in Pervez Musharaff’s government from 2002 to 2006.

According to the FIR, Sheikh Rashid claimed to be in possession of “vital information” regarding a conspiracy of Imran Khan’s assassination by Zardari. He has been accused of causing “a fight between the PTI and the PPP” and disrupting the country’s peace. Police told journalists in Rawalpindi that Sheikh Rashid was “intoxicated” when he was arrested and a weapon with a bottle of liquor was recovered from his possession.

Rashid is also embattled in another case of “illegal occupation” as the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) had sealed Lal Haveli — his residence — and five adjoining units on January 30. On the same day, the Lahore High Court ordered de-sealing of the property.

“My crime is that I’m standing with Imran Khan,” he told journalists at a hospital in Islamabad, where he was taken for medical check-up.”I have been a minister 16 times. Never for a single time, I have been charged with corruption in these ministries,” he added. He said at least “100 to 200 armed people” raided his residence. “They entered the house through ladders, broke the doors and windows of the house, and beat my servants”, he complained.

The former interior minister said police forcibly hustled him into their vehicle. He said the police arrested him despite the fact that a court granted him bail and ordered the inspector-general of police to appear before the court on February 6. Rashid alleged that Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah is behind his arrest. However, he said that truth would prevail at the end of the day and he stands by Khan — in whose cabinet he served as the interior minister.

In 2005 when he was Minister for Information, Sheikh Rashid applied for a permit to travel to Srinagar, in his personal capacity to visit the graves of his grandparents and meet his relatives. The Government of India rejected his application.

In 2012, Sheikh Rashid was detained at Houston airport in the USA for his “links” with Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Hafiz Saeed, an alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks. He was released after five hours of interrogation after an official protest from the Pakistani ambassador.

In 2014, Sheikh Rashid was off-loaded from a Toronto-bound PIA flight due to non-issuance of clearance by the Canadian authorities.

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