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Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan after a four-year self-imposed exile

Welcoming banners for Nawaz Sharif on a highway in Rawalpindi (AP)
Welcoming banners for Nawaz Sharif on a highway in Rawalpindi (AP)

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s three-time prime minister, returned to the country on Saturday after four years of self-imposed exile in the UK.

Mr Sharif is looking for a political resurgence in Pakistan as the country gears up for elections.

The 73-year-old leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [PML-N] arrived in Islamabad from Dubai aboard a chartered flight that supporters dubbed “Umeed-e-Pakistan” (Pakistan hope) and was accompanied by select family members, senior party figures, and close friends, local media reports said.

Last month, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif (Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, and premier of the country until earlier this year) announced that his older brother would be returning to Pakistan on 21 October to lead the party’s campaign for the upcoming general election.

In 2017, Nawaz Sharif stepped down from his position as Pakistan’s prime minister when the Supreme Court disqualified him from ever holding public office due to his failure to declare a receivable salary. Since 2019, he has resided in London, having received a four-week permit from the Lahore High Court, allowing him to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, a senior leader of PML-N said: “This is a time for hope and celebration. His return bodes well for Pakistan’s economy and its people.”

Before boarding his flight to Pakistan, Mr Nawaz said he was “happy to return”, according to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.

“I’m going back to Pakistan after four years today,” Mr Sharif said on Saturday while speaking to the media at Dubai Airport. “When I was leaving Pakistan and going abroad I had no feeling of happiness but today I am happy.”

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

He described the situation in Pakistan as “worrisome” but expressed hope and that “we should not let it slip from our hands as we are capable of fixing it because we spoilt it ourselves”.

However, he is expected to face a number of legal hurdles before commencing his election campaign, in the run-up to the upcoming January elections.

The Islamabad High Court on Thursday granted him protection from arrest days ahead of his return.

His lawyer, Azam Nazeer Tarar, told the media that Mr Sharif had been granted protective bail, which meant that authorities would not be able to arrest him until he himself appeared before the court on 24 October.

Mr Sharif was convicted on corruption charges in 2018.

The petition for temporary bail mentioned that the former prime minister was not in an “ideal state of health”, but he was returning when the country was facing the “worst-ever crises of the economy and other fronts”.