Fearing protests ahead of President Pervez Musharraf's re-election bid, the Pakistan government has begun a crackdown on the opposition and arrested more than 50 leaders leading to Jamaat-e-Islaami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Tehrik-e-Insaaf's Imran Khan going underground.
Several top leaders and workers of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) were arrested and sent to jail or put under house arrest in the crackdown on Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
The APDM leaders had announced they would stage protests on September 27 and resign from the assemblies on September 29 against Musharraf's bid to get re-elected from the sitting assemblies for a second consecutive five-year term in the October 6 election.
When contacted, opposition parties said more than 50 leaders and leading activists were arrested from different cities. They include acting president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Javed Hashmi, Jamait Ulema-e-Islam deputy chief Hafiz Hussain Ahmad and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Mian Aslam.
Some of the other leaders like JI chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Tehrik-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan have gone underground to escape arrest.
Media reports said police surrounded the parliament lodges in Islamabad late Saturday night to arrest other APDM leaders and also raided the residence of a Jamaat-e-Islami MNA and arrested some activists.
The local Islamabad administration said politicians have been arrested for 30 days under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order (3-MPO). The police in Islamabad had been given orders to take some 35 opposition leaders into preventive custody, security officials said.
An intelligence official said the move was in response to the opposition threat to escalate the confrontation with the government and disrupt the election.
A press statement issued by the office of the deputy commissioner of the Islamabad Capital Territory, said the pre-emptive arrests had been initiated in the federal capital in view of calls given by certain political parties to stage protest rallies on public roads and near sensitive public buildings.
"Keeping in view the sensitive security environment and for the maintenance of tranquillity and security of the public, certain leaders encouraging unregulated and unlawful public assembly have been detained under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order," the press release said.
Political parties have also announced their support to lawyers who have said they would lay siege to the Election Commission (EC) offices the day Musharraf files his nominations.
The lawyers have threatened to enter the EC building in Islamabad and destroy the nomination papers of Musharraf.
On Saturday, lawyers held a convention in Lahore and declared they would block Musharraf's bid to get re-elected.
According to some Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders, even the homes of their workers were raided in the late night crackdown.
Sources said Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal President Qazi Hussain Ahmad escaped the crackdown and were untraceable.
Jamait Ulema-e-Islam deputy chief Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, speaking to television channels from his Islamabad residence where he has been put under house arrest, said: "This government will do anything to clear the way for the presidential election... They are using the state machinery to curb the opposition."