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Pakistan braces for Sharif’s return

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DAY OF RECKONING: Supporters of the former Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, hold a rally in Rawalpindi on Sunday a day before his planned return to challenge Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who sent him into exile seven years ago.
DAY OF RECKONING: Supporters of the former Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, hold a rally in Rawalpindi on Sunday a day before his planned return to challenge Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who sent him into exile seven years ago.

Nirupama Subramanian

“Get ready to wage a battle for democracy”

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan braces for the defiant return home of the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, it is still not clear how the government proposes to deal with his arrival, but all airports in the country have been placed under high security and arrests of Pakistan Muslim League (N) workers are continuing.

Speculation is rife that Mr. Sharif and brother Shahbaz, scheduled to arrive at the Islamabad airport at 11.40 a.m. by a Gulf Air flight from London via Muscat, will be immediately bundled into another waiting plane and deported to Saudi Arabia.

Other reports said the Sharif brothers are to be arrested on arrival. The Anti-Corruption Bureau recently reopened three cases against the former Prime Minister, while an anti-terror court last week ordered the arrest of Shahbaz for the 1998 murders of five people during his tenure as Chief Minister of Punjab.

“I am prepared to risk my personal interest, safety and security in the national interests. I appeal to the entire country to get ready to wage a battle for democracy,” Mr. Sharif said in London, before his scheduled departure.

The Sharif brothers’ plans are to leave for Lahore by road, directly from the airport, accompanied by a massive motorcade of their supporters. But Section 144, banning the assembly of more than five persons, has been declared in Rawalpindi, where the airport is located.

PML (N) Information Secretary Ahsan Iqbal said party offices all over the country were being raided and 2,600 workers had been arrested. But party members will assemble in several places in the capital on Monday and go in a procession to the airport, he said.

Cellphone jammers

At a press conference here, Mr. Iqbal also accused the government of sealing the borders of the capital with container trucks so that PML (N) workers would not be able to reach the airport to welcome Mr. Sharif. He said police were impounding motorcycles.

The government has placed all airports in the country under high security. It has been reported that an entire five km radius around the airport will be closed to the public and entry and exit will be restricted only to those with tickets. Local television channels reported that the government plans to install cellphone jammers around the airport.

It is not clear what the PML (N) will do in case Mr. Sharif is deported or arrested. A Sharif spokesman in London was reported saying the party would counter any attempt to thwart the return “in every manner possible, in the fields, in the streets, and in the courts.”

Mr. Iqbal regretted that the entire strength of the government was being mobilised to prevent two unarmed citizens from returning home.

He said the Sharif brothers were coming back on the verdict of the Supreme Court.

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