Former PM Sharif’s party workers arrested in surprise crackdown

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Former PM Sharif’s party workers arrested in surprise crackdown

Sharif is acutely aware of the choices he has made and understands the costs.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif remains defiant and will return to Pakistan no matter what the cost, even as a sudden government crackdown and arrests of hundreds of party workers sparked rumours that he might change his decision.

“Arbitrary arrests and registering of fake cases against our workers is proof the caretaker government has gone beyond its mandate,” Sharif told Khaleej Times.

The former premier is worried that the government has completely lost its neutrality and “one political party is being facilitated in every manner”.

Sharif is acutely aware of the choices he has made and understands the costs.

“Still I am coming back to fulfill my pledge with the workers and people of Pakistan.”

Party President Shahbaz Sharif said: “Our workers will come from far and wide and converge at the Lahore airport to receive their leader. The government’s state of panic is proof of Nawaz’s popularity. “

Even though Sharif, and daughter Maryam, will be arrested at the airport before they are able to see any crowd that comes to greet them, the fate of the reception party has gained political importance over the last few days, besides becoming a litmus test for Shahbaz’s credibility as Sharif’s successor. In case he can rally large numbers he will gain momentum for the campaign itself. Failure, on the other hand, will have far reaching repercussions as well, leading analysts to call Nawaz’s return ‘judgement day’ ahead of the election for PML-N.

The government’s sudden scramble to disturb PML-N plans has led to widespread chatter that, under the influence of the establishment, it is desperate to keep PML-N from leveraging Nawaz to build momentum. That is why it has also, indirectly, tried to pressure Nawaz away from coming back.

Shahbaz held the Punjab chief minister and home minister responsible for ordering the arrests, and inspector general police and chief secretary for carrying them out, despite assurances that PML-N’s march to the airport would be peaceful.

“This is naked pre-poll rigging,” he thundered, and warned the provincial bureaucracy and caretaker government officials of consequences after the election. He also warned police officers carrying out the arrests of ‘justice’ once his government returns to power.

After initially staying silent, the police force tried to distance itself from the controversy.

“Police is not carrying out the arrests of its own will, of course,” said Hammad Raza, official spokesperson for Lahore police.

“These arrests have been ordered by the home ministry after clear indications that PML-N workers were looking to disturb public order in light of Nawaz Sharif’s arrest.”

Shahbaz also said, in clear words, that he would not be responsible for any eventuality if the police continues with the clampdown, refuses to release arrested workers, and disrupts their plans to receive Sharif.

“Things will get out of my control if the government does not back down,” he said, adding “I have a responsibility to my workers. The government should stop acting in the interest of other parties before it is too late.”

Despite repeated attempts, the Punjab government spokesman did not answer Khaleej Times’ requests for comments.

news@khaleejtimes.com

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