Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is set to arrive in the country on Saturday after a four-year self-imposed exile in the UK, months ahead of general elections. The 73-year-old Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo will fly in from Dubai to Islamabad on a chartered plane, former finance minister and PML-N stalwart Ishaq Dar said. “After staying an hour or so in Islamabad, he will leave for Lahore to address a rally at Minar-i-Pakistan,” Dar told journalists on Friday. According to the party, Nawaz will likely land in Islamabad at 12:30 p.m. and leave for Lahore after a couple of hours. He may first go to his Jati Umra residence before leaving for Minari-Pakistan later in the day.
The reason Nawaz is arriving in Islamabad instead of Lahore is that his touchdown in the capital was necessary to make bail, earlier granted by the Islamabad High Court on Thursday, the Dawn newspaper reported. “Putting up an emphatic show for the homecoming of Nawaz Sharif is very important to tell everyone around that the PML-N still is a popular party in Lahore, which was once its citadel,” a PML-N leader from Punjab said. “And the party leadership here will succeed in it, as a lot more is at stake in this regard.” He said Nawaz’s arrival would give a much-needed impetus to the party at a time when the country was heading for general elections in January. “He will lead the party polls campaign and become the premier for the fourth time,” he said.
In Lahore, the PML-N leadership, including Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz, spent a busy day on Friday to ensure that caravans of the party workers from Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan left for Lahore and those who have to come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab will leave on Saturday morning. Even though the party has an ambitious target of assembling one million people, the organisers on Friday placed only 10,000 chairs. Thousands of Punjab police officials, both in uniform and plain clothes, will perform security duties in and outside the venue. The PML-N has also categorically told ticket aspirants that their candidature may not be considered if they fail to meet the required target of bringing people to the venue on Saturday, the Dawn report said.
According to the party, only Nawaz will speak at the public meeting. The PML-N has also hired two small aircraft to shower rose petals in Lahore on Saturday. Nawaz 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, Nawaz 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.
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.