Former Pakistan leader returns home to begin 10-year prison sentence
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif flew home Friday to start a 10-year prison sentence on a day when a bombing at an election rally killed at least 70 people, heightening security concerns for the country’s already fraught national elections.
Sharif, who was found guilty of corruption this month, arrived in Lahore on Friday after he and his daughter Maryam Nawaz — who was sentenced to seven years in the same case — boarded a plane from London. The pair were arrested shortly after their arrival at the Lahore airport.
His return is seen as a public show of acquiescence meant to win sympathy from voters in an election that analysts predict could either spell the downfall of one of Pakistan’s most charismatic leaders, or lead to civil unrest and political instability.
After boarding the flight Friday, Sharif posted a video on social media urging supporters to show up in droves for the July 25 election, and thereby resist what he has called a conspiracy to oust his ruling party from power. His Pakistan Muslim League-N party faces a stiff challenge from former cricket star Imran Khan’s PTI party for control of the National Assembly.
“I know that I have been given 10 years imprisonment and I will be taken straight to the prison but I want to tell the Pakistani nation that I am doing this for you,” Sharif said in his video. “I am giving this sacrifice for your future, so give me your full support and go with me with your hands in my hands.”
Maryam Nawaz tweeted a photo of her hugging her distraught daughter and son before leaving for her flight, with the caption: “Goodbyes are hard, even for the grown-ups.”
The political drama has threatened to wipe away a relative sense of calm in Pakistan that has lasted for several years.
It began when Sharif was ousted last April in a case that led the National Accountability Court to find the Sharif family guilty this month of hiding its wealth in London apartments and other foreign properties.
On Friday, some of Sharif ’s supporters clashed with police in Lahore.
Meanwhile, a bombing in southwestern Baluchistan killed at least 70 people at a rally for a candidate running for the state legislature.
The blast marked the second deadly bombing in less than a week. About 20 election workers with the secular Awami National Party were killed Tuesday in a suicide blast in the northwestern capital of Peshawar.
In hopes of soothing voters’ fears, the army announced that 370,000 troops would man election polls July 25 in hopes of preventing attacks and to protect against predictions of fraud.