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The sombre father and smiling daughter

Updated July 15, 2018

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MIAN sahab had arrived in the plane. The news spread after the PML-N Khyber Pakhtunkhwa general secretary came back with proof — a picture — that the plane was not going back from Abu Dhabi to Lahore without Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

The delayed flight, which was scheduled for 2:15pm but eventually took off at 5:04pm from Abu Dhabi International Airport, was full of restless journalists who were made to board first. Security officials of the United Arab Emirates — dressed in all-white Emirati thobes — made sure that every passenger boarded the plane. Those who were not Lahore-bound were told to go to their gates and clear the area. By the time the last of the passengers (all journalists) boarded the EY 243, there was no one left at Gate 32 apart from the security men in white.

Mr Sharif and his daughter were the last passengers to board.

Security stayed in the first class area with the Sharifs up until moments before the plane took off. Once the plane was in the air and on its way, the only person Nawaz Sharif called to the front was Khawaja Haris — the lawyer who represented the Sharifs in the Avenfield corruption case.

Their meeting lasted a good one hour, as security inside the plane prevented others from going towards first class. There were sporadic chants in support of Mr Sharif and Maryam during the flight but appeared to be more for the cameras than the leaders.

The media, apart from a handful in first class, had no access to Nawaz Sharif and his daughter throughout the flight — or before at the Abu Dhabi airport — but once the plane landed, they started pushing their way through.

The moment the wheels hit the ground, those in the first and business class surrounded the Sharifs while two security personnel held back those in economy. The small windows of the plane showed that it was surrounded by male and female security personnel — Rangers and police.

Within 15 minutes, the Rangers had entered the plane. They were prepared for the eager journalists and politely but firmly asked that all passengers who wanted to get off the plane should be allowed to do so. Others were asked to wait. Once those passengers had disembarked, PML-N supporters and members and members of the media rushed to the front to get a quote from the Sharifs — possibly their last for a long time. But they were both quiet, Maryam only smiling but her father with an anxious look on his face.

Moments before his surrender, gone was the Sharif who was thundering only a few hours ago while talking to the media in Abu Dhabi over the phone. One could say he even looked unsure.

The Rangers were on standby but they weren’t rushing him to get up — they wanted the former premier to walk out on his own time. But it wasn’t the PML-N supremo who made the first move — it was Maryam Nawaz who said “let’s go” with finality.

PARAMILITARY personnel enter the plane to take Nawaz Sharif into custody.—Photo by writer
PARAMILITARY personnel enter the plane to take Nawaz Sharif into custody.—Photo by writer

The duo then made their way down the plane, surrounded by Rangers and by the time the media got a glimpse of them, they were encircled by Rangers personnel and some men in plain clothes (some of whom identified themselves as PML-N supporters). There were at least three chains of security personnel around them, two cars where they were standing, and about 15 to 20 steps away, there was a helicopter and one jet with the Punjab government logo.

The voice of the helicopter drowned out whatever Nawaz Sharif and Maryam were saying to the officials, but the animated conversation lasted for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Shortly after, the two vanished from the view; they had sat inside the car which when moving was surrounded by Rangers who were running alongside it. The car stopped near the small jet ready to take them to Islamabad, where the Rangers again encircled Maryam Nawaz and Mr Sharif. Maryam, after about 10 minutes, could be seen entering the plane. She stopped and waved to the crowd. She called out to someone to get her suitcase, which eventually made its way to the plane. Nawaz Sharif also went inside the same jet, pausing briefly to wave to everyone watching.

As the jet started to move, some PML-N workers lamented that Mian sahab had wanted to address the people before his incarceration. But it appeared that he wouldn’t get that chance on Friday.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2018