Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday — two days before he is scheduled to land at Lahore — said that he is returning to Pakistan from London to fulfil his pledge to "honour the vote".
Addressing a party conference in London with his daughter Maryam by his side, Sharif said he has decided to return to the country "despite seeing the bars of prison in front of my eyes".
"Is there any Pakistani who has had three generations of his family go through an accountability process only to find out that no corruption was ever done?" he asked during the presser that was broadcast live on Facebook.
Sharif also criticised the court's decision to sentence his daughter to a seven-year term in jail, saying those who did so "did not even remember in their hate what stature daughters have in Pakistan".
"These people have not handed a prison sentence to my daughter: they have sentenced every daughter of this nation," he said amidst chants of "Wazir-i-azam [prime minister] Nawaz Sharif!"
Sharif claimed that the accountability judge who heard the Avenfield reference had conceded that no evidence of corrupt practices was found against him.
"When they could not find anything for a year, they looked for the iqama, and said that I did not take an imaginary salary from my son," he alleged, adding that he was sentenced in the corruption reference even though no corruption was proven against him.
"The problem here is that they have found two different standards of justice — one standard is for me, the other is for the ladlas [favourites]."
"Ask those who are rejoicing at the news of me being sent to Adiala [jail]: how was a person whose name never appeared in the Panama leaks sent to prison [in that case]?"
He also repeated a past criticism of the Supreme Court-sanctioned joint investigation team (JIT) which investigated the Panamagate case, asking whether such a JIT had ever been formed in which representatives of military intelligence agencies were allegedly included on the basis of personal recommendations. "Have these things been done through secret WhatsApp calls ever before?" he asked.
He asked: "Who in Pakistan's history has ever returned to the country after hearing that they have been sentenced to 11 years rigorous imprisonment?"
"Is there any daughter in the country's history who has come back after being sentenced for eight years?" he asked, referencing Maryam's current ordeal.
"Throw Nawaz Sharif in prison for life. Send him to the gallows. But answer these questions. The people of Pakistan will demand the answer to these questions now and will not rest until they are answered.
"By putting me in jail, will you also imprison these questions that I ask. Will these questions go to jail too?"
'Nothing can stop me'
Without naming anyone in particular, Sharif asked: "We have been put on the [Financial Action Task Force's] grey list again. Is this your success, that you brought Pakistan back into the grey list?"
Sharif claimed that the country's industry had been adversely affected by the political upheaval over the last year. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor and many other projects have been halted and the rupee is constantly weakening (against the dollar), he alleged. He complained that the PML-N government's efforts over the past five years had been jeopardised.
"My heart is wounded [at this current state of affairs]," he said. "Our green passport cannot be given the due respect until we are rid of these illnesses."
"Have mercy on Pakistan and stop [playing] these games. Don't punish the nation and the country."
Sharif said the circumstances have forced him to raise the 'honour the vote' flag, and "step into the battlefield".
He said while this mission was difficult and trying, "I owe it to the nation that me the prime minister thrice."
"No force, oppression, imprisonment, jail... nothing will stop me."
Sharif then questioned why no prime minister in the country's history has been able to complete their five-year term. "Were they all Nawaz Sharifs?" he asked.
The former prime minister said the forthcoming elections are a referendum, and urged the public to "come out of their homes like lions" to vote.
"Don't let any rigging or threat stop you. No power can keep us away from each other," he said, addressing his voters.
Sharif said he is leaving behind his ill wife in London and holding his daughter's hand while going to jail will not be easy but that "freedom, respect and prosperity are never served on a plate."
He urged the country's women to step out of their homes and join Maryam ahead of the elections.
"Shahbaz Sharif will come like a commander with a caravan and will resonate our chant," he said, adding that all of their opponents and "those who operate on others' commands" will have to face defeat.
Sharif said he and Maryam will hear the "judgement" from jail on July 25, referring to the nationwide poll results. "The verdict will break the bars of the prison," he added.
'His crime is that he exercised civilian authority'
Maryam in her address said the decision to return to the country "is the most difficult decision [they] have had to make" because of her mother's critical condition.
Kulsoom Nawaz is currently on a respirator, she said, adding: "We don't know when we will be able to see her again."
Maryam said her father had made up his mind to return to the country if the verdict came against him, but that he was double-minded about her own return.
"But I told him lest the claim is raised that: 'You came but not your daughter'," she said.
Maryam said she asked Sharif to think of her as "the nation's daughter" who like others wants to see democracy bloom.
"I am just regretful over the fact that this show that they put on of accountability was set up under the guise of revenge. I am sorrowed that our institutions suffered as a result."
She said their opponents have become tired with all of Sharifs' court hearings but the verdict that was issued was that "no corruption, wrongdoing, dishonesty or misuse of power could be proven against Nawaz Sharif."
If corruption is not Sharif's crime, Maryam said, "then his crime is that he exercised the civilian authority granted to him. And for that he was made an example of."
Speaking of the "century" that they've scored by way of court hearings, she said that she told Sharif: "We crossed that sea of fire... our decisions now should not reflect an ounce of weakness."
She said the accountability court's verdict was not an unexpected decision for her.
"It was my duty as his daughter to stand by him; but as a Pakistani I wanted to see my nation free from the shackles of oppression [and] an atmosphere of suffocation," she said.
"I am proud that PML-N is the sole platform for democracy and I became a part of this struggle."