Sharif ar­rested on his re­turn home

Gulf Times - - FRONT PAGE -

For­mer Pak­istan premier Nawaz Sharif was ar­rested on his re­turn to the coun­try yes­ter­day, where he faces 10 years in prison for cor­rup­tion, ahead of al­ready tense elec­tions his party claims are be­ing rigged. Sharif and his daugh­ter Maryam “have been ar­rested” by cor­rup­tion au­thor­i­ties “with im­me­di­ate ef­fect and till fur­ther or­ders”, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Islamabad city ad­min­is­tra­tion.

For­mer prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif was ar­rested yes­ter­day by the coun­try’s anti-graft agency fol­low­ing a con­vic­tion on cor­rup­tion charges last week, of­fi­cials said.

The three-time prime min­is­ter and his daugh­ter Maryam Nawaz were taken into cus­tody at the air­port in La­hore af­ter the air­craft car­ry­ing them from Abu Dhabi landed, ac­cord­ing to anti­graft body spokesman Nawazish Khan.

Uni­formed men es­corted the Shar­ifs, who were sen­tenced in ab­sen­tia on cor­rup­tion charges last week, from their air­plane af­ter it touched down around 8.45pm (1645 GMT), a Reuters re­porter on board said.

A spokesman for Sharif’s Pak­istan Mus­lim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party con­firmed they were ar­rested soon af­ter­wards.

Local Geo TV said Sharif and his daugh­ter were taken to an­other wait­ing air­craft to be flown out of La­hore, where more than 10,000 Sharif sup­port­ers were gath­ered to greet him.

They were headed to Islamabad and would be im­pris­oned in a high-se­cu­rity jail in Rawalpindi, an­other of­fi­cial at the agency told DPA.

“A four-mem­ber med­i­cal team will ex­am­ine them be­fore putting them in jail,” said Bi­lal Punnu, the anti-graft agency’s of­fi­cial.

Sharif and his daugh­ter were sen­tenced to 10 and eight years in jail re­spec­tively by an anti-graft court last week on cor­rup­tion charges re­lated to in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the 2016 Panama Pa­pers leaks.

The de­ci­sion, which came just weeks ahead of na­tional elec­tions, has re­in­forced the sus­pi­cion held by many that the coun­try’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary col­luded with the ju­di­ciary to pre­vent Sharif’s party from seek­ing an­other term.

The Shar­ifs’ re­turn could shake up an elec­tion race marred by ac­cu­sa­tions that the mil­i­tary is work­ing be­hind the scenes to skew the con­test in favour of ex­cricket hero Im­ran Khan, who de­scribes Sharif as a “crim­i­nal” who de­serves no sup­port.

The mil­i­tary, which has ruled Pak­istan for about half its his­tory since 1947, has de­nied in­ter­fer­ing in mod­ern-day pol­i­tics.

Tens of thou­sands of Sharif’s sup­port­ers ral­lied in La­hore in a bid to reach the air­port to wel­come their leader, but only a few could make it there due to the heavy de­ploy­ment of se­cu­rity forces.

Au­thor­i­ties de­ployed 15,000 po­lice and 4,000 troops from a para­mil­i­tary force to stop ral­lies from reach­ing the air­port, pro­vin­cial home min­is­ter Shaukat Javed said.

Sharif’s fol­low­ers fought pitched bat­tles with se­cu­rity forces in and around La­hore and made ad­vances at some points by push­ing back the po­lice and troops, but their ef­forts were not good enough.

At least 4,000 mem­bers of Sharif’s PML-N were ar­rested in a crack­down across the cen­tral prov­ince of Pun­jab, the for­mer leader’s power base.

Au­thor­i­ties have put un­der house ar­rest sev­eral dozen lead­ers of Sharif’s party, in­clud­ing the for­mer leader’s 93-yearold mother, who wanted to join the protest, his close aide Rana Sanaullah said.

Sharif, known as an ad­vo­cate for civil­ian supremacy in a coun­try marred by years of vi­o­lence by mil­i­tants and po­lit­i­cal up­heavals, has rough re­la­tions with the mil­i­tary and the ju­di­ciary.

All his three terms in power ended pre­ma­turely, once through a direct mil­i­tary coup.

Mo­bile phone ser­vice had been cut off in mid-af­ter­noon, as Sharif’s brother She­hbaz led around 10,000 party sup­port­ers on a march to­wards the city cen­tre in de­fi­ance of a city­wide ban on pub­lic gath­er­ings, ac­cord­ing to a Reuters wit­ness.

Nawaz Sharif de­cried the tac­tics or­dered by the care­taker gov­ern­ment that took over in June ahead of the gen­eral elec­tion, as Pak­istan’s con­sti­tu­tion re­quires.

“What cred­i­bil­ity will th­ese elec­tions have when the gov­ern­ment is tak­ing such a dras­tic ac­tion against our peo­ple and this crack­down is tak­ing place all over the coun­try?” he told Reuters at the air­port in Abu Dhabi ear­lier in the day as he waited with his daugh­ter for a con­nect­ing flight to La­hore.

Pak­istan’s third ma­jor po­lit­i­cal move­ment, the Pak­istan Peo­ples Party, joined the crit­i­cism of the crack­down, with its prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Bi­lawal Bhutto Zar­dari ques­tion­ing why Sharif’s sup­port­ers would be pre­vented from gath­er­ing.

“Why is La­hore un­der siege? Right to peace­ful protest is fun­da­men­tal for democ­racy,” tweeted Bhutto Zar­dari, the son of two-time prime min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto, who was as­sas­si­nated at a po­lit­i­cal rally in 2007.

The coun­try’s me­dia reg­u­la­tor warned local news chan­nels to ab­stain from air­ing state­ments “by po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship con­tain­ing defam­a­tory and deroga­tory con­tent tar­get­ing var­i­ous state in­sti­tu­tions specif­i­cally ju­di­ciary and armed forces”, the reg­u­la­tor said in a state­ment.

Re­cent opin­ion polls sug­gest that the PML-N is los­ing its lead na­tion­ally to the Pak­istan Tehreek-e-In­saf (PTI) party of arch-ri­val Khan, whose an­ti­cor­rup­tion mes­sage has res­onated with many Pak­ista­nis.

Af­ter the Supreme Court ousted Sharif last July, the courts barred him from head­ing the PML-N party he founded.

His brother She­hbaz be­came PML-N’s pres­i­dent, but Sharif re­mains the power be­hind the throne.

Since then, a host of his al­lies have been ei­ther dis­qual­i­fied by the courts, or face cor­rup­tion cases.

Many PML-N law­mak­ers have also de­fected to Khan’s party.

PML-N has also been riven by in­ter­nal di­vi­sions.

Sec­tions of the party op­pose Sharif’s com­bat­ive ap­proach against the army and fear it will turn off vot­ers in a deeply con­ser­va­tive and pa­tri­otic Mus­lim na­tion of 208mn peo­ple.

PML-N sup­port­ers in Karachi chant slo­gans against the ar­rest of fel­low sup­port­ers in La­hore, who were on their way to wel­come Nawaz Sharif and his daugh­ter Maryam.

Sharif and his daugh­ter Maryam board­ing the La­hore-bound flight at Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Qatar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.