Impoverished Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, both faced with long prison sentences, were arrested on Friday after their landing when they returned to revive their flag before a July 25 election.
The suicide bomber, who underpinned Pakistan's tensions in the run-up to the elections, had killed more than 100 people in a recent election rally just hours ago, in the country's deadliest attack in more than three years.
"I am aware that I will be detained, but it is a very small price for the great mission to save the sanctity of the election in Pakistan," said Sharif Reuters aboard the aircraft before he arrived at the central city from Lahore.
Uniformed men accompanied the Sharifs who had been sentenced in absentia last week for escaping from trading and a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson confirmed that they were arrested shortly thereafter.
Their return is high-stakes gambling, but could stir up an accusation-ridden election race. Pakistan's powerful military is working behind the scenes to distort competition for ex-cricketer hero Imran Khan. He describes Sharif as a "criminal" who deserves no support.
There were clashes between the pro-Sharif protesters and the police, which were stationed by the thousands, at the main entrance of the highway to Lahore on Friday night, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The security situation has improved in recent years in nuclear-armed Pakistan, but the significant threat posed by militants has become evident as a result of the attack on a regional rally party in Baluchistan province in southwestern Pakistan, killing 128 people. The bombing was the third incident of violence-related elections this week.
THOUSANDS ON ROADS
Following their arrest at Lahore Airport, Sharif and his daughter were immediately taken to another plane and flown to the capital Islamabad, said PML-N media coordinator Muhammad Mehdi. Local media said they were taken to Adiala Prison in the nearby garrison town of Rawalpindi.
Their rapid departure prevented PML-N workers from welcoming a hero on the streets of Lahore. Sharif's brother Shehbaz led some 10,000 to 20,000 party supporters on a march, despite a city-wide ban on public gatherings ordered by the interim government in June, as Pakistan's constitution calls for in the run-up to an election.