Lahore Abuzz as Nawaz Sharif Set to Return to Pakistan
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders and workers from across the country have congregated in Lahore to welcome chief and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on October 21 and be part of the party's grand power show ahead of the elections.
Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to return to the country after four years on Saturday to lead his party in the next general elections and try and secure a record fourth term for himself.
He is currently in Dubai and according to people familiar with the developments who spoke to News18, Sharif will land in Pakistan around Saturday midday and reach Lahore around 2:30pm to meet party officials and the mass that has gathered in the city to greet him.
A separate report by Pakistan-based GeoNews said PML-(N) officials booked multiple special trains to ensure that its supporters are able to attend the Minar-e-Pakistan rally.
Two trains will be leaving from Balochistan and one each will leave from Nasirabad and Quetta for Lahore.
A large number of cadres led by the Karachi wing of the PML-(N) are already en-route.
A separate report by the Dawn said the PML-(N) hired two aircraft to shower rose petals in Lahore upon his return.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said that Sharif, who called his successor and PTI chief, Imran Khan, a ‘ladla' of the establishment, has now become the ‘new ladla'.
“Today, the one who was calling someone else [Imran Khan] ladla [favourite] has now become ladla. Nawaz Sharif, a proclaimed offender and a convict, has got permission to roam around in the country…but let me tell you neither offering of motorbikes nor paradise pass will help them as the people have rejected him and his party,” PTI leader and former federal minister Moonis Elahi was quoted as saying by the Dawn.
The trains were decorated with Nawaz Sharif's pictures and flags. Former Karachi governor Mohammad Zubair said Sharif will speak about the welfare of the people in his address and assure them that his party is building a people-centred agenda.
Nawaz Sharif will not be reminded of his legal hurdles as soon as he lands because he was granted protective bail in two graft cases and his arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case was also suspended by an accountability court. However, his protective bail in Al-Azizia and Avenfield corruption cases will expire on October 24, 72 hours after his arrival.
PML-N 'Completely Destroyed' Pakistan's Legal System
Former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party said on Saturday that the PML-N has “completely destroyed” the legal system by facilitating the return of its supremo Nawaz Sharif, a “convicted criminal”, to the country.
Sharif, 73, Sharif arrived here on Saturday after spending four years in self-imposed exile in the UK.
“A convicted criminal being facilitated in everything! Pakistan's legal system has been completely destroyed by PMLN!” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf: posted on X.
Sharif, a three-time premier, was accorded a warm welcome on his return to Pakistan by party workers and supporters.
His brother and ex-prime minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo was coming back to unite and put Pakistan back on track.
“My leader Nawaz Sharif will be among you today, InshaAllah. He is coming back to unite this nation, not to divide it further. He is coming back to spread love among his people, not hatred,” Shehbaz posted on X.
“He is coming back to help you become a productive citizen, not ammunition for any party or group. He is coming back to put Pakistan back on track,” he said.
Addressing the media at Dubai Airport, Sharif said: “I'm going back to Pakistan after four years today. When I was leaving Pakistan and going abroad I had no feeling of happiness but today I am happy.” Sharif left for London in November 2019 on medical grounds after a higher court granted him bail for four weeks. he had served half of his seven-year jail term in the Al-Azizia corruption case.
During the four years since then, he was declared a proclaimed offender in Al-Azizia and Avenfield corruption cases for his continuous absence from the proceedings on appeals against the sentences.
The Islamabad High Court on Thursday granted him protective bail until October 24 in both cases after NAB did not oppose the petitions filed by him.
There has been a talk among political circles that he is returning to the country at the “right time” as his arch-rival PTI Chairman Khan is in jail and there has been a “perfect equation” of PML-N with the establishment.
Against this backdrop, the PTI has called the PML-N supremo “the new blue-eyed boy of the system”, the Dawn newspaper reported.
“The one who was calling someone else [Imran Khan] ladla has now become ladla,” PTI leader and former federal minister Moonis Elahi has said.
“Nawaz Sharif, a proclaimed offender and a convict, has got permission to roam around in the country … but let me tell you that neither offering motorbikes nor a paradise pass will help them as the people have rejected him and his party,” Elahi said.
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Unfazed by the threat of arrest and incarceration, former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to return to the country after four years on Saturday to lead his party in the next general elections and try and secure a record fourth term for himself. After spending two days in Saudi Arabia, Sharif is currently in Dubai to meet some people and is expected to fly here in a chartered plane. He is then expected to head to Lahore to address his party's rally at Minar-e-Pakistan. Since he has secured preventive bail in two corruption cases, he is unlikely to be arrested upon landing in Islamabad.
Sharif, 73, was on a self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom after jumping bail in 2020. The leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was serving a seven-year jail term when the Islamabad High Court suspended his sentence in 2019 for eight weeks to allow him to go abroad to seek medical treatment, but he never came back. A medical report on his health submitted to the Lahore High Court earlier this month said Sharif still had some residual anginal symptoms which would require frequent follow-up investigations in London and Pakistan.
The former premier who began politics under the wings of military ruler General Zia ul Haq as the finance minister of Punjab province in 1981 and then as its chief minister in 1985 is up against heavy odds due to multiple complications, both legal and political. Soon after his landing in Islamabad or Lahore on October 21, he would have been arrested if the courts had not intervened as Sharif was declared a proclaimed offender in the Al-Azizia steel mill corruption case by the Islamabad High Court in 2020 and declared as an absconder by an accountability court due to his absence from attending proceedings.
However, the Islamabad High Court approved a protective bail until October 24 while an Islamabad-based Accountability Court suspended his permanent arrest warrants in the Toshakhana vehicles case until the same date, thus removing legal bars in the way for Sharif to land safely and address a rally as planned to be mammoth by his party. Uzma Bokhari, PML-N leader, said every person has a right to get access to the court and there are several instances of protective bail given to convicts to let them approach the courts. Nawaz Sharif was convicted in fake cases of corruption and he would not only get bail but also his conviction would be reversed, Bokhari said while participating in a recent television talk show.
Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a renowned political analyst, said, Sharif may face several problems, primarily due to court cases. There are several political hurdles in his way due to the two convictions of 2018, Rizvi said.
Apart from the Al-Azizia steel mill corruption case, the former prime minister was also convicted in the Avenfiled property case, in which he has already secured bail. Pointing out that protective bail is given to an accused to access a court and not a convict, eminent lawyer Ahmad Awais said: Since Sharif is not a convict, he does not deserve a protective bail on merit. There is no precedence of protective bail to a convict.
Sharif has also challenged the conviction in both cases in the Islamabad High Court, which may or may not undo his conviction for him to contest any election or be appointed to a public position. Given the fact that elections are expected to be held towards the end of January, he can get relief if the judicial process is fast-tracked to get a verdict, and that too in his favour, said a party leader. The Election Commission of Pakistan has announced that the elections are expected to be held in the last week of January 2024.
But conviction in the corruption cases notwithstanding, Sharif's major challenge arises from his disqualification by the Supreme Court in 2017. According to the apex court ruling, the disqualification is for life, but his party disagrees with it. PML-N leader Azam Tarar said that after changes introduced in the election laws, Sharif's disqualification was reduced to five years, and he had already completed the term and was eligible to contest elections.
His opponents believe that a simple law enacted by Parliament cannot undo a Supreme Court verdict which can only be rectified by an amendment made in the Constitution with a 2/3rd majority. Apart from the legal challenges, Sharif would also face political challenges on many fronts.
He faces a formidable political challenge from another former prime minister Imran Khan, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf: party. Though Khan's future is also in limbo and the PTI has been weakened due to many senior leaders quitting it in the wake of the May 9 violence, the former cricketing hero is still considered more popular than any other leader in Pakistan.
On May 9, Khan's supporters launched a series of attacks on key military installations, including on the Lahore Corps Commander's House, and government properties following the arrest of their leader in an alleged corruption case.
But the bigger worry for Sharif is his own party's performance. The lacklustre show by PML-N during its 16-month rule when his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister in April last year has prompted the party leaders to desperately reach out to him to lead in the upcoming elections.
Despite his conviction in two cases of corruption, Sharif is still popular to a degree, and his followers are hoping his presence in the country during the poll campaign would boost the party's prospects.
Nevertheless, Sharif would be tested on how to win back the confidence of his supporters and workers, disappointed with Shehbaz Sharif's leadership, who they believe, failed to tackle inflation and provide relief to the masses amidst the economic crisis.
PML-N vice president Hamza Shehbaz has said that Sharif will unveil a road map to pull the cash-strapped country out of the economic mess during the rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on October 21 which will “restart its journey towards progress and prosperity.” But Sharif's biggest test would be to get a thumbs up from the powerful establishment or the Pakistan Army. In the past, Sharif was elected thrice – in 1990, 1997, and 2013, but every time thrown out of the government before the completion of his term after developing differences with the army leadership. In 2017, when he was removed after he was disqualified by the Supreme Court, he blamed the military top brass.
The key question that political observers are asking is: Has Sharif learned the key lesson on how to rule in Pakistan? Last month, virtually addressing party leaders in Lahore from London, the PML-N leader demanded action against former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and former ISI chief Lt. General Faiz Hameed for creating the mess the country was currently in.
The unexpected outburst forced his younger brother Shehbaz to air-dash to London to convince him to restrain his outburst against the establishment.
Subsequently, the party leaders, including Shehbaz, started saying that “Nawaz Sharif was coming to fix the economy and not to seek revenge against anyone.” The elder Sharif has been quiet after the meeting with his younger brother but several people believe there is some “understanding” with the powers that be in the country.
Claiming that Sharif was returning to Pakistan after reaching an “understanding with powerful circles of the country,” analyst Shehzad Iqbal told ARY News: “Sharif didn't return when his brother was ruling the country. So people are asking why he is coming back now. Obviously, there is some understanding.” Even PML-N's former ally Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is saying that there was some understanding between the establishment and Sharif, Iqbal said.
Given his style of politics, many wonder how long Sharif would be able to restrain himself from attacking the army again even as he faces legal and political hurdles.
What Does Former PM Nawaz Sharif's Homecoming Mean for Pakistan Published 19 minutes ago
Three-time Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif will return from exile eager to make yet another comeback in a country mired in political and economic chaos.
The 73-year-old is one of the nation's wealthiest men, with a fortune earned in the steel business, but is admired by supporters for his approachable “man of the soil” demeanour.
Often draped in a red Gucci scarf, his political fortunes have risen and fallen on his relationship with Pakistan's powerful military establishment –- the country's true kingmakers. Fans call him “the Lion of Punjab”, the eastern and most populous province where his support is strongest, and he is known to parade big cats at extravagant political events drumming up support.
Despite a conviction for graft hanging over him, a court this week granted him protective bail until Tuesday — paving the way for a welcome home rally that has been on the cards for months. After four years of self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom, it will be a major test of clout for one of the big beasts of Pakistani politics.
Sharif is widely believed to have continued pulling the strings of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, even after his brother Shehbaz led them to power last year in a coalition ousting Imran Khan. Nawaz first took power in 1990 with the blessing of the establishment, but was forced out three years later by corruption allegations — a theme that has dogged his career.
He has lived for years in Saudi Arabia and London — where the Sharif family have extensive luxury properties — only to return to Pakistan each time with renewed zeal. Stung by the nationalisation of the family steel business — which he later regained control of — Sharif is a fiscal conservative and champion of economic liberalisation and free markets.
He oversaw the privatisation of several key state enterprises — including banks and energy producers — in a process critics say was riven by corruption.
He was also one of the key drivers of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that underpins relations between Islamabad and Beijing.
During his various stints as premier he was accused of stacking courts with loyalist judges, tinkering with the constitution, and rigging provincial elections to shore up his party's power bases.
His second reign of power lasted two years and ended in 1999 with him deposed in a military coup after plotting to sideline his army chief of staff, Pervez Musharraf. Sharif narrowly avoided the death sentence in a hastily convened trial before being sent into self-imposed exile.
More than a decade later and he was back in power, in part because of his brother's diligent performance as chief minister of Punjab, regarded Pakistan's most powerful constituency. But fresh graft allegations emerged when his children were named in the Panama Papers leak for holding offshore companies.
He was later convicted over separate corruption allegations and disqualified from office for life. It was the third time that he failed to complete a full term.
Less than a year into a seven-year prison sentence he was granted permission to travel to the United Kingdom for medical care and then declined to return.
But with Khan falling spectacularly out of favour with the military, Sharif's fortunes began to change last year.
His return has been smoothed by legal changes downsizing the period lawmakers can be barred from elections.
Analysts also say there has likely been a deal with the establishment to prevent further court challenges.
But the “Lion of Punjab” must also win over a population weary of dynastic politics and weighed down by economic crisis.