to Jeddah via Islamabad
By Arshad Sharif
am happy to be back in my country,” said Nawaz
Sharif after he stepped for the first time onto
the tarmac of the Islamabad airport. But his happiness
was short-lived. Indications of the government’s
intentions started emerging once the plane began
its descent before landing.
Mr Nawaz, who woke up around 8am after a nap on
flight PK 786, came to the economy class just 10
minutes before landing. Perhaps he was anticipating
that security personnel would board the aircraft
and whisk him away to put him once again behind
bars either in Attock, Murree or some other place.
What he did not perhaps anticipate was the government’s
action of sending him once again into exile —
this time against his wishes. Once all other passengers
had disembarked, Deputy Director Immigration FIA,
Kaleem Imam came on the aircraft.
“I am a friend of Pervez Rathore and he was
conveying his regards,” Kaleem Imam whispered
in the ears of Nawaz as the cameras picked up what
he was saying.
Later, he asked Nawaz Sharif to hand over his passport.
“I want to go through the normal process of
immigration as an ordinary citizen,” Nawaz
told the immigration officer.
Initially, Mr Sharif had greed to give the passport.
However, on advice from the handful of party members
accompanying him, Nawaz resisted.
The party members accompanying Mr Nawaz Sharif believed
that the government would stamp his passport and
then bundle him off into exile.
The fears were sparked when a number of police commandos
were seen standing on the tarmac, surrounding the
aircraft. From the windows, a helicopter could be
seen parked near an aircraft, adding further to
the fears that this helicopter was meant for Nawaz
Nawaz tried to contact his party leaders in Pakistan
as soon as the plane touched down.
“Call Nisar,” Nawaz told one of his
accompanying party members.
But he was not able to do so.
“The phones are jammed,” Nawaz said
in reply to a question whether he has been able
to talk to any of the leaders.
However, he managed to talk for a few minutes to
one of his deputies.
“Where are you?” Nawaz was heard asking,
before the line went dead.
Before taking the flight back home to end his seven
years of exile, Nawaz was confident that his party
members and those of the All Parties Democratic
Movement (APDM) would give him a rousing welcome.
But the only people who were visible from the windows
of the aircraft were security personnel. The proverbial
sea of supporters for whom Nawaz had undertaken
the journey were nowhere to be seen.
The dreams of a revolution were still a dream whose
reality had struck Nawaz hard on landing at Islamabad.
“They (the government) have arrested a number
of party leaders,” Nawaz told the media onboard
the aircraft while trying to explain what went wrong
But it appears that even before the journey, Nawaz
Sharif had a presentiment of trouble ahead.
Perhaps that was one reason Nawaz asked Shahbaz
Sharif to stay back in London so that he does not
meet the same fate as the one awaiting him.
As Nawaz was deliberating what moves to make, without
any communication with the outside world, a police
officer, a police official asked Nawaz Sharif to
All attempts to gain time so that party workers
could rescue him appeared to be failing.
Nawaz Sharif stayed in the aircraft for almost two
hours after landing. The patience of officials seemed
to be running low. They were receiving directives
from their superiors to get done with the job as
soon as possible.
Finally, Lord Nazir Ahmed, who was negotiating with
the officials, advised Mr Nawaz to come out of the
As the final decision to leave the aircraft was
taken, an official of the Airport Security Force
entered the aircraft and read out a media advisory
that no photographs or movies could be made on the
airport as it was a restricted area.
It further heightened fears that the security officials
would whisk away
Nawaz Sharif as soon as he stepped out. However,
assurances were given that nothing of the sort would
But on the tarmac, officials knew what the plan
Accompanied by a few party men and media persons,
Nawaz boarded the bus for the airport lounge.
In the lounge, Mr Sharif was again asked to hand
over his passport so that it could be stamped.
The PML-N chief tried to resist for as long as possible.
He was asked to go to the immigration counter or
give his passport. A few metres away from him were
two majors of the Pakistan Army, both helicopter
After some time, an official who identified himself
as a retired lieutenant colonel of the Army, now
serving in the National Accountability Bureau. He
read out an arrest warrant for Nawaz Sharif on charges
of money laundering and corruption. “These
arrest warrants have been rejected by the court,”
said Javed Malik, an advocate accompanying the former
As the lieutenant colonel was leaving, he was heard
saying that he was doing what the government had
asked him to do.
Suddenly a commotion developed.
Then the police commandoes came in.
For the first time, Nawaz Sharif was pushed around
He was whisked away while photojournalists were
trying to get the last shots of Mr Nawaz.
“Why action should not be taken against the
officials who read out an arrest warrant already
rejected by the court and then, if he was a wanted
man, for sending him into exile?” said a party
The government believes it has won the day. But
for how long and at what cost?
(Arshad Sharif, a correspondent for DAWN NEWS TV,
traveled on the plane which brought Mr Nawaz Sharif
to Islamabad from London. Courtesy Dawn)