LAHORE: Amid a concerted crackdown against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers in Punjab, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz left London for Lahore on Thursday to face their jail sentence in the Avenfield properties reference.
The caretaker government of Punjab province has made rigorous arrangements to ensure that the PML-N will not be able to hold a rally at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore on Friday. The government has also coordinated with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to take Mr Sharif and Maryam to Islamabad by helicopter directly from the airport, if the second option of diverting their flight to the federal capital is not exercised.
Teams of NAB officials have been deployed at the airports in Islamabad and in Lahore.
The PML-N has accused the government of detaining more than 400 of its workers, mostly in Lahore, in order to stop them from gathering in front of the airport, where the party supremo has expressed his wish to address them.
Shahbaz lashes out at caretaker Punjab CM after PML-N workers picked up to ‘prevent welcome rally at Lahore airport’
The ousted prime minister and his daughter boarded the plane on Thursday and are scheduled to arrive in Lahore at around 6:15pm on Friday, via Abu Dhabi. Before their departure, Maryam tweeted: “[For the] first time in 30 days, Ami (mother) opened [her] eyes for a few seconds. Don’t know if she saw or registered us. She is still not conscious and on ventilator. Prayers solicited.”
Talking to reporters outside London’s Harley Street Clinic where Begum Kulsoom has been undergoing treatment for cancer, Mr Sharif’s son Hussain said his mother had opened her eyes for a few seconds before closing them again. “My mother’s condition has improved,” he said.
Maryam told reporters that her family had received several messages asking them to review their decision to return to Pakistan. “An effort was made to stop us in London. We were told again and again to extend our stay in London, and in return, our appeal against our jail term will be taken care of. When we refused, they (certain powers) started spreading various rumours about us,” she said, adding that the PML-N rally in Lahore would be peaceful as her party had a history of holding non-violent protests.
An accountability court in Islamabad last week sentenced the former prime minister to 10 years’ imprisonment and Maryam to seven years imprisonment in the Avenfield properties reference. Maryam’s husband retired Capt Mohammad Safdar was also awarded a year’s jail term, which he is now serving at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi.
Building up to the hype surrounding the welcome rally for Mr Sharif and his daughter, the PML-N shared a message from his elderly mother Begum Shamim Akhtar, in which she said her son had made Pakistan prosperous but an unjust decision had given against him, Maryam and Safdar. “I want to kiss my son upon his return. If Nawaz and Maryam are sent to jail I will go along with them. They are innocent as even in the judgement it is mentioned that no corruption has been proved. They are being punished for being faithful to the country and raising the slogan of respecting the ballot,” she said.
The provincial caretaker government led by Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi has employed the usual intimidation tactics in Lahore city — picking up political workers, placing containers on roads leading to the airport, and deploying over 13,000 policemen and Rangers personnel at the airport — to stop the PML-N from putting on a big show.
“Nearly 400 of our workers, including representatives of local bodies, have been arrested in Lahore and other parts of the country. This is the worst kind of undemocratic attitude reminding us of the black days of dictatorship,” PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Auranzeb said, speaking to Dawn. She said the Punjab police had extended its crackdown against PML-N workers in other districts of Punjab and by Friday, the number of arrested workers could cross 1,000.
Furious at the high-handed treatment of his party workers, former Punjab chief minister and president of the PML-N Shahbaz Sharif warned police officers and bureaucrats of serious consequences for acting on “illegal” orders of the caretaker government.
“Under what law have a large number of PML-N workers been detained? I strongly condemn this act and demand the caretaker chief minister to immediately release them,” he told a press conference at Model Town on Thursday.
Addressing the police officials arresting PML-N workers, the former chief minister said: “I warn the police officials to stop this injustice. You will be brought to justice after July 25 for what you are doing today. You will be behind the bars where you are sending my party workers,” he thundered, and termed the action against the PML-N pre-poll rigging. The PML-N president further warned that “things would be out of his control” if the state machinery continued to coerce and threaten its workers.
“Our opponents, especially the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, have been given a free hand to hold public meetings in Lahore as Section 144 does not apply to it. We are being pushed against the wall. If this pre-poll rigging continues, we may not accept the July 25 polls results,” he said.
The younger Sharif has made it clear that the PML-N rally, which he is expected to lead from Lohari Gate (Walled City), would be peaceful. “Since our rally will be peaceful there is no justification to detain our workers for 30 days...this is a worst kind of rigging. I ask Mr Rizvi to order their immediate release. The ECP should also take notice of it. If both (the caretaker government and the ECP) do not take notice of this then it will be understood that they are puppets being controlled by someone else,” he said.
Shahbaz Sharif said like his elder brother, he, too, was not afraid of going to jail. “Even if Nawaz Sharif and Maryam are arrested at the airport our rally will remain peaceful. If my sons and I are arrested, my daughters will lead the rally to give a historic welcome to them,” he vowed.
Separately, NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal in a statement on Thursday confirmed that Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz would be arrested in light of the Avenfield verdict against them and action would be taken against those who placed hurdles in the process.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018