Sharif in custody after return to Pakistan to face prison
Disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in custody on Saturday, a day after the deadliest attacks in Pakistan’s troubled election campaign killed more than 130 people, including a candidate.
In the southwestern province of Baluchistan, a suicide bomber killed 128 people Friday, including a politician running for a provincial legislature. Four others died in a strike in Pakistan’s northwest, spreading panic in the country.
The attacks came hours before Sharif returned from London along with his daughter Maryam to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges, anti-corruption officials said. Maryam Sharif faces seven years in jail.
Mushahidullah Khan, a spokesman for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, said Saturday that the ex-prime minister and his daughter were being held in Adiala Jail, located outside the capital of Islamabad.
Sharif has been calling for supporters to vote for candidates from his party.
Khan said Sharif will appeal his conviction and apply for bail before the deadline expires on Monday. He still faces two additional corruption trials, both of which will be held inside the jail, said Khan. Security is being cited as the reason.
In the southern town of Mastung, candidate Siraj Raisani and 127 others died when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid scores of supporters who had gathered at a rally.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the horrific bombing in southwestern Baluchistan that wounded another 300 people, straining Baluchistan’s health care resources.
The group gave no reason for the bombing. Raisani was running for the election on the newly launched Baluchistan Awami Party ticket.
Appeals were made for donations of blood. Bodies overwhelmed the morgue as crying family members arrived to collect their dead.
On Saturday, banners decrying the tragedy fluttered over empty streets as the provincial capital of Quetta shuttered in mourning for the dead. Lawyers wearing black armbands canceled court appearances.
“Stop killing people, stop shedding blood” read one banner, while another read: “Terrorism and terrorist should be curbed with iron hands.”
At Quetta’s main hospital Dr. Mohammad Waseem said there was an overwhelming response to the appeal for blood mostly from university students.
Student Ali Ahmed, 18, said he turned up to donate blood in response to an appeal he read in a newspaper. “That was a big tragedy in Mastung, I am very sad. If I can save a life with my blood, I am here to bleed for them,” he told The Associated Press.
Within hours of the bombing in Mastung, Sharif returned to Pakistan from London where he was visiting his ailing wife to face corruption charges.
Sharif’s son-in-law is currently serving a 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 acquired money.
Ahead of Sharif’s return, police swept through Lahore, arresting scores of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party workers to prevent them from greeting him at the airport.
In a video message Friday reportedly from aboard his aircraft en route to Pakistan, Sharif said he was returning knowing he would be taken directly to prison.
Sharif has been banned from participating in politics, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads his Pakistan Muslim League and is campaigning for re-election on July 25.
In a televised appeal to supporters from London earlier this week, Sharif said he was not afraid of prison and asked people to vote for his party. He also used the opportunity to again criticize Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country directly or indirectly for most of its 71-year history, saying Pakistan now has a “state above the state.”
During his term in office, Sharif criticized the military’s involvement in civilian affairs and its efforts in fighting extremists.
Pakistani and international rights groups have accused the military of seeking to maintain its influence in the country’s politics by keeping Sharif out of power. The military has denied the accusation.
The military also said it is only involved in elections at the request of Pakistan’s Election Commission. The army will deploy 350,000 security personnel to polling stations throughout the country on election day.
Friday’s bombings underscored the security threat.
The first one killed four people in the northwest near the election rally of a senior politician from an Islamist party. The explosion targeted candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who escaped unhurt, and wounded 20 people, said local police chief Rashid Khan.
Durrani is running in the July 25 vote against popular former lawmaker Imran Khan. He is a candidate of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an election alliance of radical religious groups.
The attacks came days after a suicide bomber dispatched by the Pakistani Taliban killed secular politician Haroon Ahmed Bilour and 20 others at his rally in the northwestern city of Peshawar.