LAHORE - Hundreds of PML-N leaders and workers have been arrested ahead of today’s arrival of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz in Lahore.
Though the crackdown by the caretaker government was Punjab-wide, most of the arrests made since Wednesday night came in the provincial capital – which was sealed on Thursday with containers and heavy police deployment.
At least 64 leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have been sent to jail for a month, just two weeks before the general elections – which has largely come to be seen as a contest between pro and anti-Nawaz forces.
Nawaz Sharif and his daughter were last week sentenced in absentia by an accountability court to several years of rigorous punishment - in a corruption case regarding their upscale apartments in London’s Avenfield area. Both are set to be arrested by NAB on their arrival and sent to jail.
The troubles of the three-time former premier began last year when in July he was ousted from the parliament as a result of the apex court verdict in Panama Papers case, and subsequently made to lose headship of his party too because of the same verdict.
The Sharif family has been denying all the charges of corruption but their predicament has aggravated with the recent convictions in Avenfield Apartments case. Maryam’s husband Capt (r) Safdar, who was also convicted in the same case, has already landed in jail.
The father and the daughter, who were in London for last several days to look after Nawaz Sharif’s ailing wife Begum Kalsoom Nawaz, had announced that they will return to Pakistan on Friday despite all odds.
“Whether committed to jail or executed, they are determined to go back to Pakistan,” the former premier reiterated while talking to the media before embarking on the return journey.
The two convicts however are also required to personally appear before the high court to apply for a bail within ten days of their conviction, as per the law.
Along with a group of Pakistani and foreign journalists, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter will land at Allama Iqbal International Airport through flight EY-243 of Etehad Airways at 6:15pm (local time) today.
The duo flew on Thursday from London at 8:45pm (1:45am, Friday Pakistani time) and was set to arrive at Abu Dhabi at 7am (Pakistan 8am on Friday). After a stopover of about six hours in Abu Dhabi, the flight will reach Lahore at 6:15pm today.
Nawaz and Maryam had wished to bid fare to ventilator sustained Kalsoom before departing from London. And their wish came true the last day when she regained consciousness and opened her eyes for a while after a month-long blackout at Harley Street Clinic London.
“Begum Kalsoom saw the husband and the daughter with eyes in her tears,” suggested the reports arriving here from London.
Under the lead of PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif, the party has planned a very warm welcome for their leaders in Lahore. The party workers and leaders remain determined to reach the airport despite detentions and containment.
The NAB, also getting on its toes, has constituted four teams comprising a total of 16 members, to immediately take the father and the daughter into custody and airlift them from the Airport.
They are most likely to be taken to Islamabad, in case it is deemed unsafe to keep them at the Lahore headquarter of the bureau due to law and order situation or any other reason. The NAB has already obtained arrest warrants for them both.
The duo wants to court their arrest voluntarily at NAB’s Lahore headquarters, but only after addressing the PML-N workers outside the airport. But the authorities are not willing to let them do this in the prevailing politically-charged atmosphere.
Earlier, the central caretaker government and the NAB had allowed such concession to Capt Safdar in Rawalpindi on Saturday. But the things could become too ugly and even violent in case of Nawaz and Maryam as a much bigger and furious crowed is expected to reach the airport if allowed.
“Nawaz Sharif and his daughter are convicts who will be arrested immediately on arrival and will not be allowed to move around in the city,” said Caretaker Information Minister Barrister Syed Ali Zafar.
Shehbaz, on the other hand, has asked the workers to proceed to the airport in bulk. He told the media that if he himself and his sons are taken into custody or put under house arrest, his daughters will come out to lead the League procession.
The mother of Nawaz and Shehbaz, Shamim Akhtar aired a video message yesterday wherein she said her children had committed no offence and announced to herself go to the jail if they are taken into custody at the airport.
She said Nawaz had brought development and prosperity to the country and he is coming back to Pakistan to see her. “So let him come to me,” she added.
According to PML-N plan, the main procession to be led by Shehbaz Sharif will be joined by the party workers and rallies throughout the track till the airport. The procession will start from Muslim Masjid outside the Lohari Gate after Juma prayers and going through Anarkali Bazar will reach the Mall from where it will move ahead to the airport.
The party has given call to everyone to reach the airport from all over the country. However, the authorities have worked out a plan to check their way. The party says the workers want to peacefully receive their leaders and has condemned the measures to stop them.
Security cordon and
More than 10,000 cops including anti-riot units are deployed across Lahore where police sealed off crossings and intersections - including all the nine entry and exit points by placing hundreds of containers, barbed wires and barricades to stop the PML-N caravans.
Section 144 Cr PC has also been imposed in Lahore which restricts gathering of more than five persons at a place.
The way to airport has also been barricaded and Aviation authorities will allow entry only to the passengers holding valid documents and after complete checking. The administration has warned against taking the law into hand while expressing the resolve to keep peace in the city.
The police and other law enforcing agencies were also continuing the crackdown across Punjab on the PML-N office-bearers, tickets holders and the local government representatives affiliated with it.
Sources in the Punjab’s central police office revealed that more than 500 PML-N workers were arrested during police crackdown launched across the province late Wednesday.
“The Punjab Police have been provided another list by the Home Department. As part of the crackdown, the police are ordered to detain another 500 workers and leaders of PML-N before Friday morning,” an official said while requesting anonymity.
The PML-N, on the other hand, gave an unbelievingly high number of arrests. It alleged yesterday that more than 6,000 of its activists had already been arrested and it believed that more will be detained in the 24 hours.
Police sources said most of the arrests were made in Lahore, Gujranwala, Okara, Sahiwal, Kasur, Sheikhupra, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, and Sialkot districts. And they also confirmed that more arrests were likely as their raids were underway in many parts of the province.
PML-N candidate and former NA speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq called for stopping the arrests saying this will make the situation even more serious. In a media interaction, he held Caretaker CM responsible for action on the PML-N workers and said, such unwise steps make no sense. He demanded immediate release of the PML-N men.
Former Railways minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq said hundreds of their workers have been apprehended. He said the government must know that the PML-N show is quite peaceful and they had no intention to take the law into hand.
PML-N Media Coordinator Muhammad Mehdi termed the crackdown a state oppression and said it won’t deter them from meeting their beloved leaders.
In Lahore, police raided PML-N’s election offices and corner meetings late Wednesday night and arrested dozens of workers including chairmen, vice chairmen, and councilors of different union councils. They were sent to jail for one month period on Thursday morning.
An official of the Punjab Prison Department told The Nation that at least 64 PML-N workers including chairmen, vice chairmen, and councilors were sent to the Lahore’s Central Jail for one month period.
According to a letter sent to the Lahore Deputy Commissioner by jail department, the PML-N leaders and workers were detained for one month period under the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance.
Most of the arrests were made during non-stop police raids in various parts of the metropolis including Model Town, Baghbanpura, Sanda, Khokhar Pind, Badami Bagh, Gujjarpura, Harbanspura, Township, Green Town, Sanda, Islampura, Iqbal Town, Wahdat Colony, Samanabad, and Nawan Kot.
“It is further submitted that in total 64 detainees belonging to Pakistan Muslim League (N) are admitted in this jail,” the Superintendent Central Jail claimed on Thursday.
According to police sources, heavy police contingents raided the election offices of the PML-N in different parts of the metropolis late Wednesday night. The police also thrashed and punched the political activists as they resisted arrests.
Following the police raids, hundreds of PML-N workers late Wednesday took to streets and blocked important crossings by setting tyres on fire. They also chanted slogans in favour of their leasers and demanded immediate release of the arrested workers.
An official of the Lahore police last night said the Punjab Home Department had also prepared the lists of miscreants and police were directed to deal strictly with such elements.
“Lahore police have arrested at least 150 miscreants who belong to different political parties in order to maintain peace and law and order,” an official said.
In a press statement issued on Thursday, Lahore DIG (Operations) Shahzad Akbar claimed that at least 10,000 police would be deployed to maintain law and order across the provincial metropolis on Friday. He said the police would take action against the violators by implementing the code of conduct devised by the election commission of Pakistan.
“All the divisional SPs (in Lahore) are ordered to put under house-arrest the miscreants belonging to political parties in order to implement the code of conduct,” a police spokesman quoted DIG Akbar as saying.
The anti-riot units were deployed on important roads and crossings late Thursday. Similarly, the police patrolling units including the Dolphins Squads, Police Response Units, and Quick Response will continue armed patrolling in the sensitive and most sensitive areas.
Punjab’s Caretaker Home Minister Shaukat Javed told reporters that nobody would be allowed move towards the Lahore airport. He said that the violators would be taken to task.
To a question, he said that it would be responsibility of the federal government to arrest ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter.
“The provincial government will assist the federal government if asked to do so,” the minister said while talking to members of electronic media association at his office.
The minister also claimed that the roads would not be blocked for general public in Lahore on Friday but the government would do everything possible to protect the Lahore airport and other government installations.
Traffic and accident management
Sources in the city traffic police department said that the entry and exit points of the metropolis would be closed on Friday morning. The city police also released a traffic management plan with alternative routes for the motorists.
A spokesman for the Edhi Foundation told The Nation that at least 65 ambulances with 150 volunteers would be deployed at different points in Lahore on early Friday.
“The Edhi staff has been put on high-alert across Lahore. The ambulances and volunteers will be deployed at Shahdara, Data Darbar, Mall Road, Lohari Gate, Model Town, Bhatta Chowk, railways station, Thokar Niaz Baig, and other places.”
The spokesman for the foundation that runs ambulance to help victims of accidents and disasters also appealed to the public to contact the emergency helpline 115 in case of any emergency like situation.
Historic homecoming today
SAJID ZIA and ASHRAF JAVED