Pakistan’s Ex-PM Nawaz, daughter Maryam taken into custody at Lahore airport; passports confiscated


International desk, July 13: The flight carrying former premier Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz landed at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport around 8:45pm PST on Friday night and were taken into custody by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) officials around 9:25pm.According to media reports, dozens of security officials entered the plane after it landed and asked other passengers to leave. The duo’s passports were seized by a three-member Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team, and both were permitted to meet Begum Shamim Akhtar, Nawaz’s mother, in the Haj Lounge.

Following the meeting, the father and daughter were taken into custody.

The two are now expected to be flown to Islamabad International Airport (IIA), either by a small plane or by helicopter. Upon landing at IIA, Nawaz and Maryam will either be flown to Adiala Jail or driven to Attock Jail.

Nawaz and Maryam were convicted by an accountability court in the Avenfield corruption reference last Friday and handed jail sentences of 10 years and seven years respectively. The former was found guilty of owning assets beyond known income, while his daughter was convicted for aiding and abetting her father in covering up a “conspiracy”.

After the verdict was announced, Nawaz and Maryam had said they would return to Pakistan and appeal against the decision. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Punjab governments had made arrangements to take the father-daughter duo into custody upon arrival.

Their flight home took off from Abu Dhabi around 5pm local time and landed in Pakistan at around 8:45pm PST.

In Lahore, authorities have braced to maintain law and order, as a large number of PML-N workers and supporters have gathered in various parts of Lahore to welcome the ousted premier and his daughter.

Large parts of the city are in lockdown.

PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, whose caravan had gathered at Lohari Gate, is leading the main welcoming rally to the airport to accord his brother and PML-N supremo Nawaz a warm welcome.

He is currently at Regal Chowk, on his way to the airport. PML-N workers who are part of the rally are chanting slogans of “Rok sako tau rok lo (stop us if you can)”.

According to media reports, no PML-N supporters have been allowed onto airport premises.

Former prime minister and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz had taken off from Abu Dhabi for Lahore shortly after 6pm PST on the last leg of their journey home from London.

Their flight, Etihad Airways flight EY243, was earlier scheduled to land at 6:15pm PST at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport, but instead took off from Abu Dhabi at 6:02pm PST after suffering a nearly three-hour delay.

An airport official, when approached by our correspondent, had stated the reason for the hold-up in Abu Dhabi as a delay in an Etihad flight arriving from Bangkok, which was supposed to fly EY243’s passengers to Lahore.

While waiting at the Abu Dhabi airport for his flight home, Nawaz spoke to reporters from various news organisations over the phone.

During the call, Nawaz wondered how a flight “that is never late” had been delayed today and urged people to “think about who delayed this flight and why.”

When asked if he believes that returning to Pakistan in the current “tense” situation is a good idea, Nawaz said that he knows what the situation in the country is like.

“I know I have been handed a 10-year sentence and Maryam has been given seven years in jail, but we are returning because this country’s fate needs to change — we need to change it.”

“The media also needs be brave and take a stand in the face of it all,” Nawaz said, adding that the media’s freedom is being curbed today because “they see that this nation has risen and the media is rising and they are afraid. Why else would they do all this?”

“What is happening in this country today, what is happening in Lahore, raises questions regarding the elections. No other province is facing the situation we see in Lahore: hundreds of our party workers have been arrested; people are being pressured into switching loyalties. All of this forms a question mark on the credibility of the election,” Nawaz said.

“I am not afraid of being arrested. If I was, why would I be coming back? It does not matter if NAB or the people who have sent NAB personnel arrest me from here [Abu Dhabi] or from Lahore. I am ready for it,” Nawaz said.

BBC correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan Secunder Kermani, who was at Abu Dhabi airport, said that Nawaz and Maryam were in a lounge at the airport but security personnel would not let reporters through, so they had to huddle around a phone in a different lounge in order to speak to him.

Cellphone services have been partially suspended in certain parts of Lahore, and as many as 2,000 Rangers personnel have been deployed at and around Lahore Airport where ─ according to sources ─ the Interior Ministry, in a meeting two days ago, had decided to contain Nawaz and Maryam, sources said.

Heavy contingents of police have been deployed at all entry points to the city, and containers have been readied to block off main roads.

A police official claimed that the arrangements were made to avoid any terrorism-related incidents, and that no orders had been passed to arrest political workers or to block the motorway.

Punjab Home Department sources earlier told Dawn that anyone holding a rally would have to seek prior permission from the deputy commissioner as per the Election Commission of Pakistan Code of Conduct, but so far no one has sought any permission in Lahore.

The sources had said that authorities would not allow any processions to go to the airport. Multiple blockades have been set up on roads across the city.

Three helicopters and the Punjab Chief Minister Prof Hassan Askari’s airplane have been placed at NAB’s disposal in the eventuality that Nawaz and Maryam will need to be transported to Rawalpindi.

The caretaker government devised an alternate traffic plan on the eve of the arrival of Nawaz Sharif at Lahore airport on Friday.