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Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan from self-exile after securing 'blessings' of military establishment: Experts

Lahore: Nawaz Sharif, the only Pakistani politician who became the prime minister of the coup-prone country for a record three times, has returned to the country ahead of the elections after his party secured the blessings of the powerful military establishment, political leaders and experts said on Saturday.

The 73-year-old Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo left for London in the middle of his seven-year jail term in the Al-Azizia corruption case on “medical grounds” in November 2019 after a high court granted him bail for four weeks.

During these four years, he was declared a proclaimed offender in the Al-Azizia and Avenfield corruption cases for his continuous absence from the proceedings on appeals against the sentences.

There has been a talk among the political and bureaucratic circles that Sharif has returned at the “right time” as his arch-rival Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan is in jail and there is a “perfect equation” between his party and the powerful Army led by Gen Asim Munir, making it easy for him to see through his way back to power.

“Nawaz Sharif is returning after getting assurance with the quarters concerned,” National Assembly’s former Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf told reporters, in an apparent reference to the military establishment.

Sharif ended his self-imposed exile in the UK and returned home after his party secured the “blessings of the powerful military establishment,” said a political commentator.

The powerful Army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 73-plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in matters of security and foreign policy.

Ahead of Sharif’s arrival, his legal team approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which on Thursday granted him a protective bail until October 24 in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia corruption cases. Also, an anti-corruption court in Pakistan suspended his arrest warrant in the Toshakhana vehicles case.

Sharif was convicted in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia cases and was declared a proclaimed offender in the Toshakhana vehicle case, which is pending before an accountability court in Islamabad.

The PML-N leadership has made all efforts to make the homecoming of Sharif, who is vying for a fourth term as prime minister, a historic event. The PML-N had set an ambitious target of bringing one million people to the rally at Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan.

Known as the ‘Lion of Punjab’, Sharif became the Prime Minister for a record three times, but each time he was forced to quit in the middle of his term.

The Sharifs had categorically told the aspirants of the party tickets that they would not be the PML-N’s candidates in the upcoming polls if they failed to meet the required target to bring people to the rally on Saturday to greet the elder Sharif, who led the country’s most powerful political family and the PML-N party for more than three decades.

The PML-N’s former ally Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Imran Khan’s PTI have questioned Sharif’s understanding with the establishment regarding his ‘hassle-free’ return.

“There has been no justification to give official protocol to ‘convict’ Nawaz on his return to Pakistan. If he gets a clean chit from courts, then this facility should also be given to others,” PPP’s Punjab general secretary Hasan Murtaza said.

Murtaza said that for the law’s sake, Sharif should go straight to prison upon his arrival and complete his jail term.

“The caretaker government is facilitating the PML-N in its arrangements to receive Nawaz which puts a question mark on its impartially,” Murtaza said, alleging that a stage is being set to allow the convict (Nawaz Sharif) to contest upcoming polls and become prime minister under some deal.

Another senior PPP leader, who hails from Sindh, told PTI that currently, the PML-N is the favourite party of the military establishment. “It is an open secret that Nawaz is returning to the country with the blessing of the military establishment,” he said.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has announced that the general elections will be held in the last week of January, 2024.

Khan’s party has termed the homecoming of Sharif a result of ‘a secret deal’.

“The return of a fugitive and court-convicted is tantamount to the murder of the law and justice, besides a big test for the country’s justice system,” PTI spokesperson Raoof Hasan said.

He said the elder Sharif is returning under a “closed-room conspiracy and notorious London plan” by trampling the law and justice.

Hasan said that all the related details of various phases of Sharif’s journey from prison to his departure to London were still fresh in the minds of the people.

“A coward, liar and convicted person went to London for four weeks on humanitarian grounds under the false and humiliating excuse of dropping his platelets count. Ironically, this convicted person is returning under a closed-room conspiracy and notorious London plan by trampling the law and justice,” he said.

PML-N senior leader and former federal minister Javed Latif told PTI that it is no secret any more that injustice has been done to Sharif as all characters from the military and judicial establishment have been exposed now.

“The Nawaz government was sent packing in 2017 through a planned conspiracy in which then army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar were involved in it,” he said and added that now things have changed.

“Only one man can handle the economic situation of Pakistan and that is Nawaz Sharif,” Latif said as he expressed the hope that his leader would get relief from the court in all the cases and become prime minister after general elections in January next year.

Sharif’s younger brother and former premier Shehbaz Sharif said: “If the people of Pakistan want to see the country progress, compete with India and resolve their problems, then they will have to bring Nawaz Sharif back to power.”

Sharif’s daughter and PML-N’s chief organiser Maryam Nawaz said that people’s problems will be solved only if her father becomes prime minister again.

“Except Nawaz, all others (premiers of the country) failed to control inflation and handle economic crises. Only my father can unite the nation and deliver,” she claimed and urged the people to support Sharif for political stability as it is essential for economic stability.

The current military leadership has reportedly asked Nawaz Sharif through his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif to forget the past, including his ouster in 2017, and focus only on the country’s economy.

“Nawaz Sharif is coming back to Pakistan, not to settle scores with those who toppled his government, but to address the people’s problems,” Shehbaz Sharif has clarified.

“Nawaz has left this matter to Allah….If Pakistan has to be rebuilt then people will have to support Nawaz Sharif,” he said.

(Published 21 October 2023, 10:49 IST)

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