Published October 21, 2023 at 12:40 pm ET
Supporters of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attend a rally welcoming their leader, in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Sharif returned home on Saturday on a special flight from Dubai, ending four years of self-imposed exile in London as he seeks to win the support of voters ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January. Sharif is expected to take part in a mass homecoming rally in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday afternoon and his return comes as Pakistan is experiencing deepening political turmoil and one of its worst economic crises. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived home Saturday on a chartered plane from Dubai, ending four years of self-imposed exile in London as he seeks to rally supporters ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January.
Sharif, who was elected prime minister three times, is expected to face stiff competition from the party of former prime minister and his main rival, Imran Khan. Khan was overthrown in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 and imprisoned following a court conviction that sentenced him to three years in a corruption case.
Sharif has been on the run since he failed to appear in a Pakistani court in 2019 following his conviction and 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges.
Khan, at the time, had allowed him to travel abroad for medical treatment after he complained of chest pains. Sharif then extended his stay in London, saying his doctors would not allow him to return to Pakistan.
A Pakistani federal court on Thursday granted him several days of protection in corruption cases, clearing the way for his return.
At Islamabad airport on Saturday, legal advisers and senior members of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party gave him a warm welcome. He then flew to Lahore, where tens of thousands of supporters gathered in a public park to greet him. In a speech there, he said that he was forgiving all those who caused him harm in the past.
“I have no intention of taking revenge on anyone,” he said in his televised speech.
Sharif also announced his plan to revive the country’s ailing economy. He said his party would end unemployment, ensure a reduction in inflation and “crush the begging bowl” to avoid dependence on foreign loans. Sharif said that he wanted to work with all state institutions for the betterment of the country.
Sharif also spoke about the political victimization he said he faced after his ouster in 2017. He compared his government’s past performance with that of his successor Khan, saying that the life of the common man was much better when he served the nation as prices of the fuel. , electricity and food were affordable.
His comments came as Pakistan battles deepening political turmoil and one of its worst economic crises. In Lahore, Sharif’s supporters decorated the city with his photographs and party flags.
“Today I am going to Pakistan after four years and I feel very happy with the grace of Allah,” Sharif told reporters before leaving for Islamabad from Dubai. He arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Friday from Saudi Arabia after traveling there last week from London.
He said Pakistan’s economy and political situation had declined in recent years, according to multiple videos shared by his party on X, formerly Twitter.
But he added: “As I said before, I leave everything to God.” He said he made more than 150 court appearances after his 2017 ouster.
The Islamabad High Court’s decision on Thursday to allow his return was a big boost for Sharif and his party, who are struggling to counter the popularity of Khan, who remains the main opposition figure.
Sharif also faces multiple legal challenges. In 2020, an Islamabad anti-corruption court issued an arrest warrant against him after he failed to return home. The same court on Thursday suspended that arrest warrant until October 24. Another federal court granted Sharif a lease until October 24, giving him protection from arrest until then.
Last month, Sharif claimed that the country’s powerful former army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, and spy chief Faiz Hameed orchestrated his overthrow in 2017. He had troubled relations with the military.
His party became hugely unpopular after Khan’s ouster, when Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif replaced Khan, a former cricketer turned politician.
Shehbaz, whose term ended in August, failed to improve the economy, although he saved Pakistan from default.
A provisional government is currently in power and will hold elections in January.
Associated Press journalist Babar Dogar contributed to this story from Lahore, Pakatan.