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Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif returns home after four years in self-imposed exile in UK

Islamabad: Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned home on Saturday on a special flight after a four-year self-imposed exile in the UK to head his party and try to secure a record fourth term in the general elections expected to be held in January.

The 73-year-old Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo flew in from Dubai to Islamabad on the ‘Umeed-e-Pakistan’ chartered plane.

Sharif’s legal team will meet him to take his biometrics and submit it to the Islamabad High Court as part of the bail process approved by the court on October 19.

After staying an hour or so in Islamabad, he will leave for Lahore to address a rally at Minar-e-Pakistan.

His party has been trying to paint his homecoming as a hope for Pakistan. No call was given for party workers to welcome him at the airport but dozens of supporters have reached the Islamabad airport.

About 150 PML-N supporters, who were onboard on the special flight, kept on chanting slogans throughout the flight.

Sharif was calm during the flight and apparently reading the notes for his address in Lahore in the evening.

Speaking to reporters at Dubai airport, the three-time former prime minister deplored the ‘very chaotic’ situation in Pakistan and expressed confidence that his party was ‘competent’ to take the cash-strapped country out of the present crisis.

“I’m going back to Pakistan after four years today,” Sharif said. “When I was leaving Pakistan and going abroad I had no feeling of happiness but today I am happy.”

The ousted premier added that it would have been very good if the situation of the country was better today as compared to 2017.

“I get very worried and disappointed seeing the situation in the country. The country that had to move forward is going backward now economically and unity-wise.”

Terming the situation as “worrisome”, Sharif said there was still hope and “we should not let it slip from our hands as we are capable of fixing it because we spoilt it ourselves”.

He said the country had to get back on its feet as nobody would lift us up.

“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.”

Sharif said only the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) can decide when polls will be held, adding that it was the only competent authority and a fair election commission.

“Whatever date the ECP announces, everyone will [abide by it]. My priority is whatever the ECP says. Pakistan has a fair ECP today and I feel it will make the best decision with regards to the election.”

Lamenting the treatment meted out to him in the past, he said he was the person who had gone through 150 court hearings.

“Not just me but also my daughter. She even got a clean chit. She had to get it. She didn’t have a position during my government, not even an office.”

He said fake cases were not just filed against his family including former prime minister and his brother Shehbaz Sharif but also ex-interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi.

“I even said before leaving that I leave everything to Allah (God) and I still continue doing that.” He smirked and said “We are the May 28 ones” when asked about the May 9 violence allegedly carried out by the Imran Khan’s party.

Pakistan conducted nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, under the leadership of the then prime minister Sharif.

Sharif left for London in Nove­m­ber 2019 on medical grounds after a higher court granted him bail for four weeks. By that time, he had served half of his seven-year jail term in the Al-Azizia corruption case.

During the four years since then, Sharif 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 the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency, did not oppose the petitions filed by him.

He stepped down as Pakistan’s prime minister in 2017 after he was disqualified for life from holding public office by the Supreme Court after a probe into his family’s wealth following the 2016 Panama Papers leak.

Sharif has consistently denied any wrongdoing and termed it as a politically motivated case.

(Published 21 October 2023, 08:50 IST)

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