Lahore waited with baited breath yesterday, as the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam arrived at Allama Iqbal Airport to be arrested by NAB. The verdict and sentence against Nawaz and Maryam had been marred with allegations of bias and engineering, and certainly, the events that occurred on the day of the arrest further lend credit to those allegations.
In lieu of reports that the care-taker government had been arresting and threatening PML-N leaders and workers who were planning to show up to greet the former PM, newspaper editorials and journalists had advised the government to act in an independent and non-partisan manner, and let PML-N members exercise their constitutional right to protest on the day of Nawaz’s return. Unfortunately, it seems that this advice fell on deaf ears, as the care-taker government took extra measures to clamp down on any show of support for Nawaz Sharif, infuriating even those opposed to the PML-N.
From obstruction of roads to prevent gathering of PML-N members, to sealing the airport to ensure no party member gets to greet the PML-N, to complete blockage of phone signals to restrict communication for any potential political rallies, the care-taker government engaged in pre-emptive over the top efforts to clamp down on any show of support for the three times elected Prime Minister. Even more incriminating was the pressure put on media to refrain from covering the PML-N protests, as reportedly a huge procession headed by Shehbaz Sharif was forcefully left out of media coverage. These extra security efforts and curtailment of media, done in the name of preventing violence from exacerbating political tensions, appear even more unfortunate and fruitless considering the devastating attacks the country faced the very day. The government was so bent on the controversial arrival of Nawaz and Maryam Sharif to proceed without controversy and dissent, that it had no qualms on repressing the constitutional rights of members of a major political party.
The arrest may have gone as the government had wished, yet this overreach of institutions in the name of security may have far worse implications for the government. The care-taker government is tasked with the responsibility of proceeding with matters as non-partisan and with as little bias as it can, yet the Chief Minister Hassan Askari’s clamping down on political rights leave a very bad after-taste for democratic precedent, and leave no doubt that the allegations of bias and engineering heaved on the verdict have substance.