Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, daughter Maryam arrested on return to Pakistan

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested on Friday after his return to the country, where he faces 10 years in prison for corruption, even before the elections are tense.

Sharif and his daughter, Maryam, were arrested "by the corruption agency" with immediate effect and until further notice, "a statement issued by the city government of Islamabad said that they landed in Lahore and were then taken to the capital, according to the statement.

An anti-corruption official confirmed the arrests to AFP on condition of anonymity.

Sharif, who claims he is being attacked by the country's powerful security establishment, is fighting for his political life as his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party faces nationwide polls in the last weeks of July 25 Campaigning hobbles.

Around 15,000 singing and dancing supporters lined the mall, Lahore's main thoroughfare, before Sharif's return from London, an AFP reporter said there.

Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous and a PML-N stronghold.

A smaller contingent of about two dozen supporters waited en route to Adiala Prison in Rawalpindi, the garrison town near Islamabad, where Sharif was expected to be before he went to a guest house on the outskirts of the capital, which the authorities said " under prison "

About 100 police officers had blocked the road to the jail with cargo containers, an AFP reporter said.

Analysts said Sharif's return – a week after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia by a high court for buying high-end property in London – could help lift his party's fate before the vote.

"I know that … I'll be sent straight to jail," said Sharif, who was banished last year for corruption by the Supreme Court and later also from the politics of life, said in a video that his party on Friday had published.

He asked the Pakistanis to "walk with me, meet with me and change the country's goal."

On Thursday, Sharif's brother Shahbaz, who directs the PML-N election campaign, said that hundreds of workers and supporters of the party had been arrested, calling it "naked" pre-poll rigging.

security fears

As political drama unfolded, fears of pre-election violence increased after a suicide bomber killed a political rally in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and killed candidate Siraj Raisani and 127 other people in one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan's history.

The explosion – claimed by the terrorist group Daesh – pierced a crowd in the city of Mastung.

The terrible bombing injured another 300 people and burdened Baluchistan's health resources.

Raisani ran for the election on the newly launched ticket of the Balochistan Awami party.

Previously, four people had been killed by a bomb aimed at the convoy of another politician in the northwest of the country. There was no claim to responsibility.

On Tuesday, a Pakistani Taliban bombing raid had targeted a political rally in the city of Peshawar, killing 22 people.

The series of attacks underlined the fragility of Pakistani security, which has dramatically improved in recent years, despite analysts warning that politicians and the security establishment have not yet tackled the causes of extremism.

The military already warned of security threats and said it would station more than 370,000 troops on election day.

The Pakistani military remains the most powerful institution in the country. It has been heavily criticized for putting pressure on the media and politicians to manipulate the polls against the PML-N.

It denies the allegations.

The election will take the PML-N against their main rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, a party led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Since Sharif returned to London last month, where his wife is being treated for cancer, the PML-N has been in disarray and has failed to launch an organized campaign to mobilize the pre-election base.

Recent surveys showed that the popularity of the PTI steadily increased and the gap with the PML-N was closed.

Analyst Zahid Hussain said the ex-leader had "struck back for his political life."

"It would certainly have been worse for the party's prospects if it had not come," Hussain added.

Sharif was the 15th Prime Minister in Pakistan's 70-year history, about half of whom were under military rule. He was dissolved before the end of the term.

He has faced similar challenges in the past – and defended them.

In 1993, he was dismissed from his first term as prime minister for corruption. His second term of office ended in 1999 with a coup d'état and he was imprisoned by the military regime when he was tried on several counts of charges, including corruption.

"In Pakistan, leaders have to go to jail, which is important for their profile," said Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai.

Sharif was later allowed by the military government to go to exile in Saudi Arabia and returned in 2007 before becoming Prime Minister for the third time in 2013.

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