ISLAMABAD: “I 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 Sharif.
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 and where.
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 accompany him.
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 aircraft.
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 take place.
But on the tarmac, officials knew what the plan was.
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 pilots.
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 prime minister.
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 and manhandled.
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 worker.
The government believes it has won the day. But for how long and at what cost?
Arshad Sharif, a correspondent for DAWN NEWS TV, travelled on the plane which brought Mr Nawaz Sharif to Islamabad from London.