- Nawaz Sharif, daughter sentenced to prison in corruption case last week
- They are returning to Pakistan today ahead of elections this month
- 10,000 extra cops called in, mobile networks to be jammed for nine hours
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, sentenced to jail in absentia for corruption, were arrested within minutes of their Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi touching down at Lahore airport on Friday. The three-time prime minister and his daughter were later handcuffed and flown to Islamabad in a smaller aircraft. More than 10,000 security personnel have been deployed in Lahore, prohibitory orders imposed and mobile phone services blocked to check against any trouble. Nawaz Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N, had planned a huge show of strength near the city's Allama Iqbal Airport airport for Sharif's homecoming but weren't allowed to reach anywhere close.
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Security officials boarded the aircraft as soon as it landed at Lahore, completed the immigration formalities and handed Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam over to teams of the National Accountability Bureau.
Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam have been taken to the Sihala Police Training College Rest House in Islamabad that has been notified as a jail. It is not clear if they will be shifted to Rawalpindi's central jail tomorrow or will continue to be located in the rest house.
Nawaz Sharif was prepared. Before he boarded the plane from Abu Dhabi airport, the former PM said: "I'll be taken straight to jail. But I'm doing this for people of Pak, sacrificing for generations to come. Such an opportunity won't come again. Let's build the destiny of Pakistan together".
Nawaz Sharif's decision to return from London is an effort to galvanize the PML-N's campaign that was seen to be losing steam ahead of the July 25 general elections. The PML-N is pitted against its main political rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan.
PML-N leaders indicate that they expected the presence of the charismatic leader and his 44-year-old daughter, seen as his political heir, to fire up party workers and muster support for the party.
The government is seen to be taking all possible steps to prevent Nawaz Sharif from drawing political capital from his return and arrest. Around 300 members of Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N were arrested. Thousands of others were stopped 12 km from the airport.
The commercial flight from Abu Dhabi had been delayed by almost three hours which led to speculation that they were "held captive" on their layover in Abu Dhabi. "A flight that is not normally late has been delayed... Whether they arrest me now or when I reach Lahore, I am ready for any eventuality," Mr Sharif was seen saying in a series of videos accessed by NDTV.
A ban on live telecast of briefings of political leaders containing "defamatory and derogatory content" against the army or judiciary resulted in a toned-down coverage of Nawaz Sharif's return and the politics around it.
Nawaz Sharif, 68, was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Pakistani accountability court for corrupt practices linked to his family's purchase of four London flats. He faces two more corruption cases against him following the Panama Paper scandal.
His daughter Maryam Nawaz, 44, was also convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. Before leaving London, she called going back to Pakistan "to go to prison the most difficult decision of our lives because my mother is on the ventilator and we don't know what happens next, there is no pain like that of leaving your mother behind in such situation but there's a national duty and we must make this important journey".