Nawaz Sharif is back home, but in jail  7/13/2018 10:00:08 PM  3  Shahab Jafry/Lahore

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were duly arrested as they arrived in Lahore on Friday before being flown to Islamabad, via a special plane, to begin their jail sentences.

An accountability court on July 6 sentenced Sharif and Maryam to 10 and seven years respectively in the landmark Avenfield corruption case.

Earlier in the day, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif managed to defy the odds and gather "around 10,000 people", according to eye witnesses, to march to the airport and receive Sharif. In a crackdown the police arrested 378 PML-N workers on Friday, in addition to the hundreds of detentions the previous day.

The Punjab government also jammed phone lines, kept entry points into Lahore in check, and blocked all routes to the airport in a clear effort to deter PML-N from mobilising its workers.

Reaching the airport in such large numbers was never really a possibility, but rallying a formidable crowd in the face of an intense official crackdown will bolster Sharif's narrative politically and provide buoyancy to the party's election campaign. News of Friday's arrests came even as the Lahore High Court ordered authorities to release all detainees from the first string of arrests. Sharif accused the caretaker government of losing its neutrality before leaving for Pakistan and encouraged his followers to come out in his support. "I have done what I could, now it is your turn," he said. In addition to giving momentum to the party's canvassing

Friday's crowd also provided a much needed breather for Shahbaz. Doubts about his credibility with the party's rank and file, and the ability to fill Nawaz's shoes, should now be settled. And fears that most party leaders would rather concentrate on the election than risk being arrested, especially so close to the vote, also proved unfounded.

Strangely, Pakistan's mainstream electronic media only provided sporadic coverage of PML-N's activities during the day. A bulk of the airtime went to the two bomb blasts targeting election rallies, in KP and Balochistan, that together killed approximately 80 people.

But news of the PML-N convoy, first assembling at Lahore's historic Lohari Gate, and its march towards the airport, was limited at best till late evening.

As the dust from Nawaz's arrest begins to settle, attention will now turn to the caretaker government's intimidatory tactics towards PML-N. So far the party has centred its entire campaign on Nawaz's allegations of a grand establishment conspiracy to keep the PML-N from power. In the last days before the election, Shahbaz will cite this official pressure, and the government's 'facilitation of one political party', as vindication of that narrative. He will also count on the thousands that responded to his call on Friday as proof of its resonance in the electorate.

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