Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s flight was delayed by hours at Abu Dhabi, where he had landed this morning for a layover on his way to Lahore for a dramatic homecoming. Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, sentenced to jail in Pakistan for corruption, are likely to be arrested as soon as they land in Lahore.
Before they boarded their flight to Lahore around 6 pm – at least four hours late – Mr Sharif and Maryam Nawaz waited at a first class lounge and, according to journalists, were not allowed to meet their lawyer or even the media, according to a journalist accompanying them from London.
Their movements were also restricted, the journalist told NDTV.
Two of his supporters, Ahsan Akram and Fahd Effendi allegedly tried to enter the Etihad lounge but were denied entry. They were told, “It is not upto the Sharifs but the UAE government and Etihad who enters the lounge.”
“I don’t understand…A flight that is not normally late has been delayed. We were ready to board the flight and this has happened. There are question marks,” Mr Sharif was seen saying in a series of videos accessed exclusively by NDTV.
“Whether they arrest me now or when I reach Lahore, I am ready for any eventuality. If I can leave my wife in that state and come to this point, I am coming home with a purpose. People know that,” he said.
Speaking to journalists on the phone, he said: “When the time has come for change…when we are standing on the verge of a defining moment, the media seems to be backing out. What is there to be afraid of? Get rid of your fear,” the 68-year-old said.
Mr Sharif was sentenced in absentia last week to 10 years in prison by an anti-corruption court over the purchase of high-end properties in London. The case dealt a serious blow to his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party’s bid weeks ahead of the July 25 general election.
Mr Sharif said he would return to Pakistan despite his imminent arrest and mobilise his party men. “I know that I will be directly taken to jail,” he said in a video taken on Friday, as reports suggested that he and his daughter would be arrested on the tarmac at the Lahore airport and flown to Islamabad by helicopter.
“I want to tell Pakistanis I have been doing this for you… Walk with me, join hands with me and change the destination of the country,” Mr Sharif said.
Alleging that the Pakistani government was behind his “hostage” situation in Abu Dhabi and was intimidating his supporters and colleagues, he added: “What credibility do these elections have?’
The interim government in Pakistan, determined to prevent Mr Sharif from wringing political capital from his return and arrest ahead of the election, have Lahore on virtual lockdown.
Over 10,000 police officers have been posted in the city and the administration has ordered that mobile phones and internet will be shut for the rest of the day.
The election pits the PML-N against its main rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan.
Recent polling has showed PTI’s popularity steadily rising and closing the gap with the PML-N.