Islamabad/LAHORE - PML-N Quaid and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif were arrested Friday night minutes after their landing, while the party rallies failed to reach the heavily guarded Lahore airport to welcome them.
Six cops were among scores of people wounded during violent clashes between police and PML-N workers in parts of the metropolis. Police also fired tear-gas shells to disperse protesters who pelted cops with stones.
The former PM and his daughter were convicted by an accountability court in the Avenfield corruption reference last Friday and handed jail sentences.
The officials of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) took them into custody around 9:25pm inside the Etehad Airways plane, which landed in Lahore around 8:45pm local time. Their passports were seized by a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team.
The duo was then boarded a special plane and flown to Islamabad airport, from where they were taken to Adiala Jail amid tight security.
Ahead of their arrival, the Sehala Rest House had been declared a sub-jail – creating confusion about their final destination.
Maryam’s husband Cap (r) Safdar, who was sentenced to one year in jail in the same case for abetment, is already in Adiala Jail.
Nawaz Sharif was found guilty of owning assets beyond known income and sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment, while Maryam was given a seven years jail term for abetting her father in crime.
Sources in the ruling PML-N informed that the legal team of Nawaz led by Khawaja Haris advocate was all set to move a writ petition challenging the conviction in Islamabad High Court by Monday and they were confident that they would manage to get the sentence suspended.
Sihala or Adiala?
Nawaz and his daughter were moved to Adiala Jail Friday night from New Islamabad International Airport.
Initially, there were rumours that both of them would be moved to Sihala Rest House which was also declared a sub-jail Friday evening by the Islamabad administration.
There was also confusion about the mode of travel from the airport to the jail. Before their shifting to Adiala Jail, it was unclear if there would be via helicopter or taken by road. Finally, they were driven in a cavalcade of 40 security vehicles.
Before their landing at the Islamabad airport, NAB Prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar approached Islamabad Accountability Court judge Mohammad Bashir for completion of the formality of handing the convicts over to the jail superintendent.
The court officials were summoned at the Judicial Complex in the evening for which the staff was already put on alert. The judge assigned sub-divisional magistrate Waseem Ahmad the task of handing over of the convicts to Adiala Jail superintendent.
In the meanwhile, Islamabad chief commissioner through a notification declared Sihala Police Training College Rest House Islamabad as sub-jail.
This created confusion about the destination of the detainees. Some people thought only Maryam would be kept at Sihala as the condition of women cell in Adiala Jail was not good, but others said they both will be eventually taken to Sihala rest house.
Though there were no confirmed reports, sources in the federal government said that both of them would likely be shifted to Sihala Rest House in a couple of days. They said they have been taken to Adiala for the sake of medical examination at the jail hospital – a prerequisite for putting convicts into prison.
Some jail officials said on condition of anonymity that they both would be kept at Adiala Jail for Friday night and if anyone of them or both were to be shifted to Sihala it would be done tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
Sources in the government informed that Sihala Rest House had recently been renovated which gave credence to the possibility of Nawaz and Maryam’s shifting to that place.
Sihala Rest House has a historic significance as former premier Benazir Bhutto was also kept there. During the countrywide protest against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 70s the then religious parties’ alliance leaders – including Shah Ahmad Noorani, Moulana Mufti Mahmood and Moulana Abdul Sattar Khan Niazir –were also kept in this rest house.
On the other hand, security was beefed up at Adiala Jail. The deployment of Rangers and police was increased and the road leading to the jail was blocked by placing containers.
The arrival and arrest
After their convictions, Nawaz and Maryam had said they would return to Pakistan and appeal against the decision. As per their plan, they flew from London Thursday evening and landed in Abu Dhabi the same night. After a gap of many hours and with a delay of over two hours to the scheduled time, the same flight - EY 243 -took them to Lahore on Friday night.
Nawaz and Maryam appeared quite composed at the time of their arrest. Maryam was taken into custody by three female FIA officials. The ex-premier expressed the desire to see his mother at the Lahore airport but his request was not entertained, keeping in view the law and order situation.
The PML-N has rejected the conviction of their top leaders terming it ‘engineered and politically motivated’.
The authorities had made arrangements to take the convicts into custody upon arrival while the party activists started off for the Lahore airport in the afternoon to accord their leaders a warm welcome.
Fearing mob violence, the Punjab government had arranged for stopping them and slowing down on the way. The major party rally, led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shehbaz Sharif and starting from Lahori Gate, could reach only at the Regal Chowk – several kilometers away from the airport – by the time the top party leaders were arrested and flown off.
Caretaker Punjab Home Minister Shaukat Javed had told a news conference in the afternoon that Abdullah Gull Interchange was the point beyond which nobody would be allowed to go for security reasons. He warned anybody who tried to cross that red line, would be dealt with sternly.
As part of the security strategy, authorities also suspended mobile phone services in the morning across the metropolis. The service was not restored till late Friday.
Hundreds of more workers were also arrested by police during Punjab-wide crackdown on Friday as they violated the section 144 to teach Lahore airport.
PML-N procession and its termination
The PML-N had given a call to the workers to receive their leaders at the airport. PML-N supporters had gathered in a large number at Lohari Gate from where party president Shehbaz Sharif led them towards the airport.
Faced with the roadblocks the slow moving procession was on The Mall, far from the airport, when Nawaz and Maryam landed there and flown off to Islamabad.
The main procession, headed by Shehbaz Sharif, too could not make it to the airport. After midnight the PML-N president announced its termination at Dharampura underpass.
In a brief address made from a jeep on the occasion, the PML-N president said that Nawaz Sharif by coming back to the country has proved that he was right and he committed no crime.
He said the mass response to the call for receiving the former premier has endorsed Pakistan was with Nawaz Sharif.
Shehbaz said “today the whole Pakistani nation had come out to receive its beloved leader which amply demonstrates their love for him and appraisal of the development and progress made under his leadership”.
He added, “One decision was given by the NAB, the other has been given today by the people. The public reaction has proved that the masses are not only with Nawaz Sharif but the PML-N is sure to win the election.
Announcing termination of their procession, Shehbaz Sharif said, he will shortly announce his next line of action.
He said if the elections are not transparent the PML-N will launch protest. He asked the workers to come out on July 25 to vote the PML-N as their victory will not only be the win of Pakistan but also of Nawaz Sharif.
Hamza Shehbaz in his brief speech said the party workers were in spirits even higher than those witnessed in the historic long march headed by Nawaz Sharif during Musharraf regime. It is a reflection of love for Nawaz Sharif, he added.
Announcing end of the rally, Shehbaz Sharif drove to his Model Town residence.
Earlier, several PML-N leaders – including AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, Hamza Shehbaz, Ayaz Sadiq, Khwaja Saad, Pervez Rashid, Pervaiz Malik, Mushahid Hussain, Ch Tanvir Hussain, Mariyyum Aurengzeb and Talal Ch – gathered their supporters in their respective constituencies for leading them to the main party procession, headed for the airport.
Shamim Akhtar, the mother of Nawaz and Shehbaz, who last day had announced that she will also go to jail with her son if he will be arrested, also came out to proceed to the airport along with her grandson Salman Shehbaz.
The PML-N media coordinator Muhammad Mehdi said the 90 years old lady was confined to their Jatiumra residence due to heavy police force present outside to block her way. However, she came out in the afternoon to head for the airport with Salman.
Earlier in the day, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif had reached the Walled City at the night of July 12. He took all cares to avoid arrest before reaching the destination and also sent a video massage from his undisclosed Walled City location to motivate the workers.
He said it was a historic day “marked by the defeat of state oppression. Nawaz Sharif is coming back to the country leaving his critically ill wife behind”.
He said he was present in the Walled City but he knew that many restrictions have been put in the way of League workers who wanted to join the procession. However, they were committed to go to the airport.
Hamza Shehbaz reached Lahori Gate at 2pm along with party workers. A sizable gathering of the PML-N workers was already present there wherein the women workers were more conspicuous. The rally gradually grew into a big procession as the time progressed.
In his message on the occasion, Hamza reiterated his determination to move to the airport to receive Nawaz Sharif who, he said, is coming back to the country for the sake of the people, country and democracy.
The rallies kept trying to move ahead towards the airport despite the fact that no one was being allowed to cross over Abdullah Gull interchange at Ring Road.
Lahore security scene and clashes
More than 10,000 cops including anti-riot units were deployed across Lahore as police sealed off crossings and intersections including the entry and exit points by placing heavy containers to disrupt the movement of political activists.
Clashes broke out when anti-riot units of police attempted to break up the PML-N rallies from moving towards the airport at Ravi Bridge, Shahdara, Airport Road, Ferozpur Road, Bhatta Chowk and Maulana Shaukat Ali Road.
Dozens of PML-N workers smashed the windowpanes of a police bus in Sabzazar. Later, they were seen flying party flags onto the police bus. The police again retaliated, stepped up crackdown, and arrested several more protesters.
Rescue workers said at least six policemen were injured during clashes at the Ravi Bridge. Several PML-N workers also received injuries during clashes at Bhatta Chowk, Ravi Bridge, and Chungi Amarsidhu.
A spokesman for the Edhi Foundation said that head constable Zeshan and constables Khayam Hussain and Bilal Akram sustained serious injuries. They were shifted to Shahdara Hospital on an ambulance.
City police on Thursday sprung into action and seized more than 200 containers, forcing the drivers to stay in the capital till the end of security operation.
Scores of containers were placed in different parts of the metropolis to bar PML-N workers from reaching the airport.
Containers were also placed on all the entry and exit points, virtually disconnected the provincial capital from other parts of the country.
The drivers said police abused them when they refused to hand over their vehicles. They complained that the police action could cost them in millions. The police did not release the drivers and their containers till late Friday.
Arrests and ‘release’
A police spokesman last night claimed that the police were ordered to release all the political workers detained during the crackdown.
“Punjab IGP Syed Kaleem Imam has ordered the police to immediately release all the detainees from the police lock-ups on surety bonds,” the spokesman said. He further said the police chief ordered release of the detainees after the Lahore High Court directed the provincial authorities to release all political workers.
According to police sources, more than 1100 PML-N workers were arrested during police crackdown since late Wednesday. Most of the arrests were made in Lahore, Gujranwala, Okara, Sahiwal, Kasur, Sheikhupra, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, and Sialkot districts.
An official of the Punjab Prison Department said dozens of PML-N workers including chairmen, vice chairmen, and councilors were sent to the Lahore’s Central Jail for one month period.
An official of the Punjab Home Department earlier said that at least 140 workers were arrested by police during the crackdown. They were sent to different jails under the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order for one month period.
Caretaker Home Minister Shaukat Javed had told reporters in Lahore that no candidate was among those detained during the police operations. However, he said that more than 100 people were arrested from different cities to maintain peace and public order.
High drama as Sharifs arrested, lodged in jail