Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested in Lahore airport on Friday as he returned to face a 10-year prison sentence which he claimed was part of a wide-ranging, military-backed conspiracy to deny his party a second term in an election due on 25 July.
Military police boarded Sharif’s flight as it landed from a stop in Abu Dhabi after taking off in London. Paramilitary Rangers linked arms and battled against Sharif’s supporters to escort the 68-year-old off the aircraft, into a waiting car and then across the 200 yards to another small aircraft.
The Rangers also arrested Maryam, his daughter, who on 6 July was sentenced with her father to seven years in the trial over how the family came to own four luxury flats in London’s Park Lane, a story that resurfaced in the 2016 leak of the Panama Papers.
As the political drama unfolded in Lahore, fears of violence also surged ahead of the polls as 132 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a political rally in southwestern Balochistan province.
“Who wants to go to jail?”, Sharif told the Guardian from the Etihad airlines flight on which supporters yelled pro-Sharif slogans while in the air. “But it is a very small price to pay for my mission, which is to establish the sanctity of the vote in Pakistan.”
The arrests ignited an otherwise lacklustre election campaign beset by allegations that the powerful military was “engineering” the vote to promote the main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by the former cricketer Imran Khan. The military has denied the allegations.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-graft court, ruled earlier this month that Sharif and his family laundered money in the 1990s to pay for the Park Lane apartments, drawing on allegations that resurfaced in the Panama Papers leak.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Memphis Barker