In a sign of growing rancour between Pakistan's ruling coalition partners, PPP Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has lashed out at PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif for not taking steps to release his friend who is in a Punjab jail for nine years on charges of drug smuggling.
Zardari has been requesting Shahbaz to order the release on parole of Rehmat Shah Afridi, the chief editor of The Frontier Post, but the PML-N president has reportedly turned down the request though his party is in power in Punjab.
"I have called Shahbaz Sharif sahib at least 10 times in the last couple of days and requested him to forget his old differences with Rehmat Shah Afridi. I asked for the release of my friend on parole, which is not difficult for the Punjab government but Shahbaz Sharif is making excuses," Zardari told The News.
"Where are the champions of the press freedom today? Rehmat Shah Afridi was arrested and booked in a fake drug smuggling case on political grounds. He spent nine years in jail just for writing the truth and now he is seriously ill but some people still want to take their revenge."
Afridi's lawyers have blamed former premier and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif for concocting a fake drug case because the editor helped slain former premier Benazir Bhutto in 1989 when she was facing a no-confidence move in the National Assembly.
However, the PML-N has denied any political rivalry with Afridi.
The PPP and PML (N), two former arch-rivals, had joined hands for the Feb 18 general elections held after President Pervez Musharraf's eight-year military rule. But the ties have strained in recent weeks with Nawaz Sharif's PML (N) quitting the cabinet following differences on the issue of reinstating judges sacked by Musharraf during emergency last year.