Nawaz, Maryam arrested, taken to Islamabad

Begum Kulsoom Nawaz- File

Begum Kulsoom Nawaz- File

Former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz who had been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) minutes after they landed at Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport have been shifted to Adiala jail.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan on Friday, reacting to the arrival of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, said that it is now necessary to bring back the looted wealth.

Much of the eastern city of Lahore, the hometown of both Khan and Sharif, was on alert for protests by Sharif's supporters.

The Sharif family is now facing two more corruption cases in the accountability court - Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments - in which they are accused of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets. In a video message posted hours before landing in Lahore, Sharif said he was aware of his impending arrest and was doing it for the country. But he said the people of Pakistan will not allow anything to prevent "historic" elections from taking place.

Sharif alleges the military is aiding a "judicial witch-hunt" against him and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party.

"We have orders from our top command not to take action against the PML-N rally participants", he said.

Their return represents a high-stakes gamble, but could shake up an election race riven by accusations Pakistan's powerful military is working behind the scenes to skew the contest in favor of ex-cricket hero Imran Khan.

The country's media regulator warned local news channels to abstain from airing statements 'by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting. judiciary and armed forces'.

His return is seen as a public show of acquiescence meant to win sympathy from voters in an election that analysts predict could either spell the downfall of one of Pakistan's most charismatic leaders, or lead to years of civil unrest and political instability.

Sharif is expected to be whisked away by helicopter to the federal capital of Islamabad when he returns to Pakistan from London to face a 10-year prison sentence for corruption.

Sharif's son-in-law is now serving his one-year prison sentence on the same charge, which stems from the purchase of luxury apartments in Britain that the court said were bought with illegally gotten money. Maryam was convicted for concealing ownership of the apartments.

Reaching the airport in such large numbers was never really a possibility, but rallying a formidable crowd in the face of an intense official crackdown will bolster Sharif's narrative politically and provide buoyancy to the party's election campaign. They both deny wrongdoing.

The elder Sharif had been dismissed as prime minister last July, after the Supreme Court ruled that he had lied on a parliamentary wealth declaration. His brother Shehbaz became PML-N's president, but Sharif remains the power behind the throne. Many PML-N lawmakers have also defected to Khan's party.

Strangely, Pakistan's mainstream electronic media only provided sporadic coverage of PML-N's activities during the day.

The kind of reception Sharif receives on the streets of Lahore will be viewed carefully in Pakistan, where political popularity is often measured by the size of rallies that politicians can attract.

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