Irfan Siddiqui - Our passports and boarding cards were with the Abu Dhabi protocol. Then came a time when in the spacious first class lounge, that had the capacity for hundreds of passengers, there was none except for five/six of us. There were a couple of waiters, or in a remote corner two uniformed security personnel. Protocol people in white gowns came and left after a cursory look. We all had a simple lunch at the same table. At the same time came a news on the social media, and perhaps on some Pakistani channels, that Mian Sahab is at the Sheikh Al-Nahayan palace to hold important talks in which some Pakistani high-ups are also there. Then came a report that our flight is being delayed under a well-thought-out plan, and that we’ll get a go-ahead only when we get a green signal from Pakistan. The assessment was that our flight will land at Lahore at 2am or 3am.
Appearing like authentic news these rumours were landing at my phone and those of Maryam and Rameeza.
Then we came to know that a large number of dubious elements, reportedly PIA workers, are about to board the flight, as a result of which there is a possibility of some unpleasant situation. Unmindful of these rumours, Mian Sahab was busy talking to his children in London. He told Hasan you and Hussain prepare a timetable to take care of your mother. Somebody should be present at the hospital all the time, and continue reciting the wazeefa that we people recited at home. I am seeing very positive results of this wazeefa. Then he talked to his grandsons Junaid and Hamza and exhorted them not to retaliate in case somebody hurls abuses or behaves in an uncivilised manner outside the residence. Maryam asked Hussain about ammi (mother) and then prayed for her to regain consciousness at the earliest. She asked Hussain not to tell ammi that I and abbu (father) are in jail. Tell all others about this but ammi should not know this. Just tell her that they are about to reach here.
I said Maryam nobody would lodge you in Adiala or any other jail. They will take you to some rest house, maybe a house is declared as a sub-jail for you.
Without waiting for a moment, she said, uncle this is not right. If abbu is in jail, I too will be in jail. I’ll not go to any rest house even for a single day.
Clad in white gowns, protocol people, with our passports and boarding cards in their hands, came to us. They signalled us to depart. We, accompanied by them, reached gate no. 51.
At the time another rumour was alerting us that we are not being taken to the plane for ordinary passengers, rather a special small plane is being arranged for us. But this was not the case. It was the same flight – EY243. All passengers were already seated.
At this juncture, in addition to those dressed in white, about a dozen uniformed officials or sepoys were with us. This group accompanied us into the plane. Moving aside the curtains, as we entered the business class, waiting journalists sprang up in their seats, switched on their camera lights, mobile phones became active and then came questions in plenty. Mian Sahab started answering them from the same place. Security and protocol people had gone back. The flight crew was seeing this in astonishment and was confused. Mian Sahab and Maryam could not move for about seven-eight minutes.
I had the boarding card for 11-F seat, which was in the last row of the first compartment of the business class. Mian Sahab was on a seat ahead of this. I offered him my seat so that Mian Sahab and Maryam could sit together. I moved to his seat. In a while, journalists flocked around him once again. Other passengers also took their phones and started taking pictures or getting photographed.
After about half an hour, Khwaja Harris left his seat in the other row and came to Mian Sahab and exchanged views about lodging an appeal against the accountability court’s judgment. During these consultations Maryam became the focus of everybody’s attention. Two/three female journalists interviewed her.
Some foreign journalists were standing aside waiting for an opportunity for an interview with Mian Sahab. On being reminded, Mian Sahab gave interviews to the Economist, Reuters and BBC correspondents. So far, there was nothing unusual, nor any ‘mysterious’ faces were seen there. The presence of the PTI groups also turned out to be a rumour. Lahore was only at a distance of 30-45 minutes that media persons became active once again and started asking Mian Sahab questions. Mian Sahab insistently said that if just one fourth of the media jettisoned fears and refused to bow to oppression, the destination of the genuine democracy would get very closer.
About his own plans he said I am going to court arrest in the light of the accountability court’s decision. Maryam is also with me. Safdar has already reached jail. Outside the airport we’ll talk to our people. I’ll offer salam to my mother and Maryam to her grandmother. And then as morning breaks, we’ll appear before the NAB Lahore. There’s no reason for anyone to get worried, and nobody should do anything uncivilised.
The plane halted long away from its designated place. A female journalist looked out of the window and said Rangers are seen all around.
It was difficult to distinguish between Rangers, ASF and the Elite Force. I saw outside, they were in large numbers. Women contingents were also among them.
The plane was parked and uncertainty and tension were on the rise. Journalists were active along with their cameras. PML-N workers, who boarded from London or Abu Dhabi, surrounded the seats of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Maryam. Someone raised ‘respect the vote’ slogan – which was responded equally enthusiastically.
Mian Sahab said don’t do this.
The plane doors opened and stairs adjusted, but no passenger was allowed to come out. Uniformed people were standing on both sides. After about 15 minutes, uniformed men and women entered the plane from the stairs on the backside. All reporters started live commentary, everybody was feeding their channels according to their personal experience or the requirements of their organisations. Nothing was audible inside.
A senior official and two/three women in uniform got closer to their seats but nobody touched Mian Sahab or Maryam. Workers started chanting slogans, but Mian Sahab stopped them. He told them I have come to court arrest, why have you created this war-like situation? After meeting my people and with the blessings of my mother, I will appear before court. You don’t have to take any trouble.
On this, a US-based Muslim League worker Abdul Khaliq Awan started delivering a speech in English. The entire cabin was echoing with this speech. He said: I am Awan, I am a Pakistani. Why have you made Pakistan a laughing stock? Why are doing what is defaming the country across the world? Stop it, please; stop it please. What (wrong) has this man done? Only that he was building the country? If he has been convicted, he has come – to court arrest. Respect him.
He was speaking continuously. It was like English raining. An officer standing beside me like a statue was listening to all this. He did not utter a single word. When the situation started turning bitter, Mian Sahab rose in his seat, Maryam too. He asked his servant Abid Allah to remain with him. Then he asked his personal physician Dr Adnan: keep the medicines bag with you.
Then dozens of uniformed employees and PML workers became part of the crowd. Sloganeering started once again. They headed towards the stairs on the rear side. Those who had the muscle joined the crowd.
Women, children and a large number of people were still inside the aircraft. Downstairs, two old, simple looking vehicles were there. About 200 metres away, a helicopter, spreading its wings, was there. On one side there was a small plane. Carrying my bag, I came to the gate of the plane but could not disembark. Ahead of me were some 50 people stuck up there; women, children and elderly figures among them. Downstairs, several workers had blocked the way. Same was the situation on the rear stairs of the plane. Children were crying; women cursing; journalists screaming that we should be allowed to come down so that we can perform our duties. But, there was no one to listen to all this. Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and uniformed personnel’s gathering looked sizeable. No one was able to guess who was saying what.
After about half an hour the crowd reached the plane and it started thinning out. Perhaps, Mian Sahab and Maryam have been seated in the plane. The blockade of stairs continued even three quarters of an hour after that. Women had started crying. The plane had landed (Lahore) at 8.30pm and now it was 10.30pm. We were still unable to disembark.
When the plane on which ‘convicts’ were aboard moved towards the runway, the blockade of stairs came to an end. Downstairs, it was the journalists and their comments. Suddenly, I saw Abid Allah. I asked him haven’t you gone (with Mian Sb). Sir, they took me to the plane but then pushed me back.
In the meantime, a ‘scared’ Dr Adnan came to me with tearful eyes. The bag of medicines was in his hands. He said Mian Sahab wanted to take the bag with him but was not allowed to. I don’t know what will happen now. He is a heart patient. I don’t know he will need which medicine when.
When I came out, there was complete silence all around. No car, no rickshaw, no taxi. I kept standing there for long, holding my bag. Then came a man who took me to his car and dropped me at my destination. He said many things on the way, but I didn’t utter a word in response.
An eleven-year-old scene came to my mind like a black and white film.
Then I thought that Nawaz Sharif is a convict and his daughter has also been declared criminal by a court. If the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is being cleansed of criminals, what is there to be so upset about? This to some extent was a point of satisfaction for me.
For quite some time I have been talking to Mian Nawaz Sharif on his special number. Whenever I sent a WhatsApp message, I received a reply in a short while. Today I saw that his WhatsApp number was not appearing. For some days he has also been using a different number. That number was also used to exchange messages. Immediately after getting up in the morning I texted him Assaalam-o-Alaikum. By the time I am writing this, it would have been 18 hours. So far, there’s no response from him.