Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been arrested and deported, just hours after a high-profile flight to Islamabad. His return was almost guarenteed to infuriate President Pervez Musharraf, whose coup removed Sharif in 1999, and sent him into exile. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had earlier defended Sharif’s right to return for upcoming elections, and warned the government not to interfere. That was ignored, and Sharif duly arrested.
Surrounded by security men and police, Sharif was taken into what the government said was protective custody, then put on a plane for Saudi Arabia. The deportation may have removed an important political rival, but Sharif’s supporters intend to challenge it in court. Sharif himself anticipated the president’s move, saying: “So, he is capable of doing anything, and maybe martial law could be one of his options. But I think, if he does that, he may be the first casualty.”
Hundreds of Sharif supporters were detained as security was stepped up around the airport. A Sharif party spokesman said that, to all intents and purposes, martial law had been imposed on Pakistan. Another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, hopes to return next month. But she is negotiating a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, which may see him secure another term as president.