After weeks of political drama, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan and were arrested at Lahore airport on charges of corruption. The father-daughter duo were convicted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in absentia last week and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
As former Ambassador and author Prof Husain Haqqani wrote: “Sharif’s decision to return to Pakistan and go to prison marks a new phase in the country’s politics. Sharif had been a creature of the establishment in the first phase of his political life and only a cautious opponent of the establishment since 1993. He has now become the first Punjabi politician to defy the predominantly Punjabi establishment in ways previously associated with leaders of Pakistan’s smaller ethnic groups.”
According to the New York Times: “High drama surrounded the arrests as the authorities blocked roads, shut down mobile and internet service and deployed thousands of officers to thwart supporters of the Sharifs from reaching the airport. The police arrested at least 600 workers of Mr. Sharif’s political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N, on security-related charges in the past several days. Officials from the National Accountability Bureau, the anti-corruption watchdog, placed the Sharifs under arrest as they arrived on an Etihad Airways commercial flight shortly before 9 p.m. They were transferred to Adiala Prison on the outskirts of Rawalpindi.”
Contrary to claims by many, supporters of the Sharifs came out in large numbers but were met by the iron hand of the state. “The show of force by the government in Punjab Province, which includes Lahore, was effective in turning back thousands of the Sharifs’ supporters from the airport, but it also appeared to have engendered a backlash. Police officers and members of a paramilitary force known as the Rangers clashed with protesters in several cities in Punjab Province, the country’s most populous and a stronghold of Mr. Sharif’s party, as rallies moved toward Lahore. Entry points to Lahore, the former prime minister’s hometown, were blocked with shipping containers.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a stern statement condemning the government’s actions. “The right to assembly and security of person are universal and must be applied as such. We strongly urge the authorities to make every effort to ensure that the little time left for the polls remains peaceful and free of undue influence across the country.” According to Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International “It’s the sort of crude repression that recalls dark periods of Pakistani history under military rule.”
Prof Haqqani ends his piece stating: “Even if the military succeeds in installing a selected prime minister into office after the votes are cast on July 25, it will not succeed in its core objective of creating a credible, effective, civilian façade. Sharif’s imprisonment will not end his (or his daughter’s) political careers long after the retirement of the generals and colonels who plotted his downfall.”