- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

LAHORE, Pakistan Police have opened an investigation into purported treason by Kulsoom Sharif, wife of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after she spoke at a political rally.

Mr. Sharif is on trial for attempted murder.

The charge against Mrs. Sharif, which is punishable by life imprisonment, comes just three days after Mr. Sharif's lawyer, Iqbal Raad, was shot to death in Karachi. The Pakistan Bar Council has ordered a countrywide strike by all lawyers for today to protest the shooting and lack of government concern for the security of lawyers.

Mr. Sharif's own trial for kidnapping, hijacking and attempted murder has come to a standstill as his defense team is refusing to attend the Karachi court and demands that the government move it to Islamabad, where security can be better guaranteed.

Rather than being embarrassed by the shooting, the treason case against Mrs. Sharif appeared to be an attempt by the military regime to pressure the family further.

A senior police officer in Hyderabad, where Mrs. Sharif spoke at a rally, said she and other leaders of Mr. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party "were making provocative speeches against the armed forces in a bid to create hatred against the government."

Another 16 persons are also being investigated.

This is the first criminal case against Mrs. Sharif as she tours the country trying to mobilize support for her jailed husband. She has said she was merely demanding the end of military rule and a return to democracy.

"This is victimization," she said. "The government wants to present the Sharif family as anti-state. But I am ready if the authorities want to arrest me."

What probably angered the military was her demand for a judicial commission to investigate the crisis in Kashmir last summer, when Pakistani troops fought bloody engagements with Indian troops.

Last week Mr. Sharif pleaded not guilty to the charges against him but said the army and Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, leader of the October coup, were responsible for the Kashmir crisis.

Mr. Raad's funeral on Saturday was attended by hundreds of lawyers who chanted slogans against the military regime. Mr. Sharif was denied permission to attend.

Once a housewife who shunned the spotlight, Mrs. Sharif has been thrust into a political minefield as she battles the army to try and save her husband from a death sentence, maintain unity in her deeply divided party and sustain her family.

"I never thought it would come to this, myself becoming such a public figure," she said in an interview. "I have only entered the political field to save my husband and save democracy in Pakistan. The moment he is free, I will retire back to my home."

For several months after the coup against her husband, Mrs. Sharif was held under house arrest at her palatial residence just outside Lahore. Her eldest son, Hassan, is in exile in London; her second son, Hussain, is in prison awaiting charges to be laid against him; her two daughters, one married to a retired army captain and the other a student in Lahore, spent several months under house arrest.

"I am not sad because I believe in God and I know that God is with us and a miracle will happen which will free my husband and change everything. Believe me, if you believe in God, anything can happen," she said.

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