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Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan after four years of exile in London

Nawaz Sharif was convicted in the Al-Azizia Mills case and was serving a seven-year imprisonment when he allowed to leave for London on medical grounds. He was disqualified by the Pakistan Supreme Court for life in 2018 due to corruption cases against him.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Islamabad Updated on: October 21, 2023 16:00 IST
Three-time former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Image Source : FILE Three-time former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returns today.

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan on Saturday after spending four years of self-imposed exile in London. His highly-anticipated visit will now be followed by his address at a major rally of his party in Lahore, where his followers have made huge preparations to welcome the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo.

Nawaz’s legal team including former law minister Senator Azam Tarar and party leaders are present at the airport to receive him after his chartered flight 'Umeed-e-Pakistan' landed at Islamabad Airport. Former deputy mayor Zeeshan Naqvi was also present at the airport along with the oath commissioner for signing legal documents, Dawn reported.

According to Geo News, Nawaz Sharif will rest at the state lounge at the New Islamabad International Airport for a few minutes and then depart for Lahore. 

"Today is probably the biggest day of my life... The pain and suffering that Nawaz Sharif endured in the last 24 years are hardly comparable, and there are some wounds that will never heal, but the amount of times Nawaz Sharif has risen is probably not the same for anyone else," said his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif on social media platform X.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of imprisoned ex-PM Imran Khan reacted strongly to Nawaz's return, saying that the "coward fugitive is returning under judicial asylum". A PTI spokesperson said that the government has "buried shame, modesty, law and justice" for the return of the "national criminal".

The PML-N supremo is likely to face a host of legal challenges before embarking on his election campaign to boost his party's chances in the upcoming general elections in January next year. The Islamabad High Court on Thursday granted him protective bail until October 24 in both cases after the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan's anti-corruption agency, did not oppose the petitions filed by him.

His party workers have urged supporters to converge on Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore from around the country to greet their leader and showcase the undiminished popularity of the party, criticised as ‘irrelevant’ by its rivals.

Nawaz speaks to media at Dubai airport

“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,” Nawaz said today while speaking to the media at Dubai Airport.

He further expressed worry over the economic situation of Pakistan, saying the country is going backwards "economically and unity-wise". “When I remember Pakistan back then, I get hurt, we had said goodbye to the International Monetary Fund, electricity was cheap, the rupee was stable, there was employment, roti cost Rs 4, a poor family’s child went to school and medicines were also cheap,” he said.

The elder Sharif also claimed that fake cases were filed against his younger brother and ex-PM Shehbaz, as well as ex-interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi. He also claimed to go through 150 court hearings.

Meanwhile, the Islamabad International Airport administration was instructed to remain on standby and not take a weekly holiday on Saturday. In Quetta, a convoy of PML-N leaders, workers and supporters left for Lahore in a special train on Friday to welcome the party leader and participate in the Minar-e-Pakistan rally. The party’s leadership in Balochistan booked the special train comprising six bogies.

Why did Nawaz go into exile?

Meanwhile, the PML-N supremo touched down in Dubai on Friday ahead of his long-anticipated return to Pakistan. His arrival was complicated by a few hours of delay as he was held up in a meeting in Saudi Arabia, Geo News reported citing sources.

The three-time Pakistan premier will be accompanied by around 150 people on his return to Pakistan in a chartered plane. PML-N Punjab President Rana Sanaullah earlier said that Nawaz would return to Islamabad with 'protective bail' and surrender to the court after his reception.

Nawaz left for London in November 2019 after the Lahore High Court granted him four-week permission to go abroad for his treatment. He was serving a seven-year imprisonment at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail in the Al-Azizia Mills case when he was allowed to proceed to London in 2019 on "medical grounds".

He was convicted in the Al-Azizia Mills and Avenfield corruption cases in 2018 and was disqualified by the Supreme Court for life for concealing assets. However, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo is still considered a crowd-puller for the upcoming general election.

In February 2020, Nawaz was declared an absconder. Later in the same year, an accountability court declared him a proclaimed offender in the Toshakhana vehicles reference. Now, as he returns to Pakistan after almost four years, Nawaz Sharif is facing new problems that can his hopes of a political comeback in jeopardy.

The former PM on Saturday said that his party is in a position to resolve the masses’ problems if elected into power.

(with agency inputs)

ALSO READ | Pakistan: Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif to arrive in Lahore tomorrow after four years, police on alert

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