LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: With hours left for deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz’s return to Lahore or probably Islamabad, the police are expected to further intensify the ongoing crackdown against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz workers in that time period.
Police have so far rounded up over 150 workers in the crackdown that started on Wednesday night in a bid to stop them from gathering at one platform, the Lahore airport, to welcome their party supremo.
However, DIG Operations Shahzad Akbar tried to downplay the situation, saying the arrested activists belonged to different political parties and were miscreants. The arrests were being made to ensure safe and fair elections as per the directions of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), he added.
“Arrests were mandatory to ensure security during elections after the Peshawar blast in which ANP leader Haroon Bilour’s and 20 other innocent lives were lost,” said the DIG.
Over 50 arrested persons had been detained under the Maintenance of Public Order at Kot Lakhpat Jail, he added.
Facts contradict the version of DIG Akbar as all the arrested people were PML-N’s elected representatives of local bodies. The crackdown started last midnight after Capital City Police Officer, Lahore BA Nasir conducted a high-level meeting at his office.
On the welcoming plan, a senior officer said that there were a few reports that the PML-N would be able to gather a minimum of 100,000 to 200,000 supporters to welcome Sharif at the airport. Thirty to 40 per cent of the strength would be mobilised from Lahore while the rest of the participants would be transported from across the country and the task had been assigned to ticketholders supervised by senior PML-N leaders.
To stop the workers from gathering at the airport, the authorities had devised a three-pronged strategy – sealing Lahore and the Allama Iqbal International Airport, blocking main arteries and highways, including GT Road, and motorway, and detaining the activists.
The authorities are targeting the third layer of the PML-N leadership, who were connected at grass-roots level, in particular, local body representatives.
Police did not arrest former MNA Waheed Alam and former provincial minister Bilal Yaseen, even though both of them had staged a protest at Shafiqabad police station against the arrest of three of their UC chairpersons. Of the 150 arrested workers, no one has served as an MPA, MNA nor minister. “The crackdown is going to intensify tonight (Thursday night),” an officer added. “It will also expand to other parts of the province. In Lahore, over 3,000 to 5,000 workers may be arrested.”
Besides these arrests, 14 points of the city would be under lockdown. Containers had been acquired for the purpose and placed at different roundabouts of the city. The Lahore airport would also be sealed on Friday (today) and heavy contingent of police and Rangers would be deployed inside and outside the airport. The number of Rangers’ personnel at all the entry points had also been increased. Containers had also been placed on roadsides. Alongside Rangers, 10,000 police officers and Anti-Riot Force officials would be deployed to maintain the law and order.
All this hassle was going to serve as an eyewash as the authorities had a totally different plan, the officer added.
He said that the plan was to re-rout the flight to Islamabad and not allow it to land at the Lahore airport. From there, Sharif would be “flown directly to Adiala Jail”.
Earlier, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore Director General Saleem Shahzad had written to NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal for provision of a helicopter to arrest Sharif and Maryam from the Lahore airport and fly them to Islamabad. Iqbal had given the permission. NAB has formed two teams to arrest the accused persons; one will stay at the Lahore airport and the other at Islamabad airport.
While addressing the media in Lahore on Thursday, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif claimed that scores of party workers had been arrested and termed the treatment being meted out to the party before Sharif’s expected return on Friday as double standards by incumbent provincial officials.
He said, “Sharif knows he will be arrested. He said he will present himself in the public’s court, the PML-N will arrange an unprecedented welcome. We are the ones who have always rendered service. Our performance is before the nation and the world.”
Separately, PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique demanded the immediate release of party workers.
Rafique, speaking at an emergency press conference, also announced that party workers and leaders, including Shehbaz Sharif, would host a warm welcome for Sharif on his arrival at the Lahore airport on July 13.
The PML-N leader said he had no clue as to who had advised the caretaker Chief Minister Hasan Askari to sanction the arrests of PML-N workers.
According to Rafique, police had been conducting raids and arresting PML-N workers throughout Lahore. “So far, more than 100 of our workers have been unlawfully apprehended,” he said. “The government should realise that we have no intention to create any law and order situation.”
Former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq also demanded of the caretaker government to stop arresting the PML-N workers. “Stopping workers from welcoming Sharif may create a law and order situation,” he warned.
Those who ordered the crackdown will be responsible for any untoward incident, he added.
“The action is taken solely at the behest of caretaker CM Hasan Askari,” said Sadiq. “It is beyond our comprehension who gave the idea of the unwarranted crackdown.”
Punjab police conducted raids on offices of PML-N on Wednesday night, and arrested several workers and local leaders, in what appeared to be a targeted crackdown against those workers preparing for Sharif’s return from London.
Those taken into custody include PML-N’s Tahaffuz Aman Committee Chairman Aashir Jutt, Kahna’s Vice Chairman Mohammad Shafqat, UC-98 Chairman Muzammil Gujjar, UC-78 Chairman Syed Amir Shah Gulshan Ravi, UC-48 Chairman Chaudhry Mohammad Ali Gujjar, UC-59 Chairman Bao Muhammad Rafiq and UC-98 Chairman Muzammil Gujjar.
The PML-N workers in large numbers protested by blocking roads and torching tyres.
Meanwhile, NAB Chairman Iqbal has warned of legal proceedings against all those who would try to create hurdles in the arrest of Sharif and Maryam.
“NAB will ensure implementation of the verdict in the Avenfield reference. The bureau will implement the accountability court’s order and arrest Sharif and Maryam,” Iqbal was quoted as saying in a statement issued by NAB on Thursday.
The announcement has been made following resistance faced by the NAB team while arresting Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar, son-in-law of former premier Sharif. The NAB team was stopped from arresting the convict for almost five hours by charged PML-N workers and local party leadership in Rawalpindi.
Sharif is sentenced to 10 years in prison and Maryam to seven after they were found guilty by an accountability court in the Avenfield properties case.
The court had issued arrest warrants for both on July 6 which say that “NAB should arrest and present the accused before the court so that they could be sent to jail in line with the verdict in the Avenfield reference case”.
NAB has also made arrangements to avoid Sharif’s direct contact with the public.