The day of Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan, when he descends from Lahore’s Allama Iqbal Airport to face the conviction against him, will be an interesting one for the public, and a most tiresome day for National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the government.

From exclusive interviews of Nawaz by The Nation, it is clear that he is returning. Nawaz and Maryam are determined to play the political martyrs in this tragic comedy of affairs, and for thier part, complying with the law and going to jail is essential if they want to ensure that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) campaign stays on track.

How they go to jail is equally important. For now, it seems that PML-N is planning on Nawaz and Maryam willingly surrendering themselves to the NAB. The image of the father and daughter stepping down from the airport, surrendering themselves to jail, while being carried on the arms of thousands of die-hard loyalists, fits perfectly into the narrative of the defenders of democracy that they have been building.

This is exactly why the government is pushing against this dramatic way of arrest as much as possible. A heroic procession undermines the accountability court’s decision, and as such, it appears that the government is preparing itself to minimise the return as much as it can, with rumours of an immediate arrest at the airport to avoid such scenes. Cases have been registered against those who took part in Captain Safdar’s arrest procession, perhaps, as a message to PML-N workers who might have been hoping to show up on Friday to greet their leader.

History has shown us that repressing popular campaigns never works and has the unintended opposite effect. Sealing the area of the airport and clamping down on PML-N protesters could very well provoke a confrontation which will only further generate controversy and sympathy for Maryam and Nawaz Sharif. Creating a warzone out of Lahore – which will inevitably spark off confrontations in other parts of the country – is the last thing we need before the elections.

All eyes will be on the caretaker government to see how it handles this no-win situation. If history tells us something, as in the case of PML-N’s mishandling of the 2014 Dharna, confrontation only makes things worse, and it would be advisable for the government to let Nawaz return uninhibited; after all his ultimate destination is the NAB office in Lahore either way.