he return of Nawaz Sharif, the supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which once claimed the Punjab as its stronghold, has become the centre of political discourse in the country. Sharif, who has lived in self exile for several years and has been declared an absconder following his conviction in a graft case, has earlier been both a victim and partner of the mighty establishment. Following his conviction in a graft case, which he describes as an establishment ploy to oust him from power, he had left Pakistan for medical treatment.
Having settled in London, Sharif had gradually started participating in national politics. During this period, several dates were proposed by various leaders of his party for his return to the country. These leaders said he was prepared to face the rest of his sentence and pending appeals before superior courts.
Following the end of his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif’s 16-month rule as prime minister, it was announced that he will be returning to the country in September. Later, an October date was announced. His daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif is tipped to be making arrangements for a grand reception for her father on his return to the country.
“The days of suffering for the people of Pakistan are coming to an end. Nawaz Sharif, who has obvious empathy with the poor, is coming back,” Maryam said recently.
Meanwhile, rifts are surfacing between erstwhile allies, the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party. Some political analysts wonder if these might escalate with Nawaz Sharif’s return.
The PPP sees several legal hurdles for Nawaz Sharif on his return.
“Sharif’s return is a good omen. It will strengthen democracy. But he will have to face the courts first,” says Nayyar Bukhari, a senior PPP leader. “He is a former prime minister of the country and a political leader. It is good that he is coming back and will enter active politics. That is his right,” he adds.
Sharif’s legal team is preparing for legal challenges that he will face on his return. Speculations are rife about a ‘deal’ or arrangement with the establishment for his return. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has bought into the rumour. Many PTI leaders have said that the return is a part of a deal with the establishment. However, PML-N leaders and workers deny these claims.
“Nawaz Sharif is set for a rude shock upon his return. I think he’s out of touch with the ground realities,” says Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the former PPP senator. “The amount of damage done to the PML-N narrative by his brother and his Pakistan Democratic Movement government’s time in office is phenomenal,” he adds.
Meanwhile some political analysts believe that Nawaz Sharif’s return is vital for his party’s chances in the upcoming national elections.
“Nawaz Sharif’s return is vital for the PML-N. It will definitely give a boost to his party. His party cannot compete without its supreme leader. His presence will motivate party leaders and workers at grassroots level,” says journalist Ansar Abbasi. “However, it is too early to say whether he will become a prime minister for the fourth time,” he says.
There are also those who believe that Shahbaz Sharif has developed good relations and chemistry with the establishment during his 16 months as premier and that this is going to be the most important factor in the outcome of the next elections.
The writer is a member of staff. He may be reached at vaqargillanigmail.com and waqargillani on X, formerly Twitter