Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan
With national elections looming in January, Pakistan’s politics just got more complicated as fugitive former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned Saturday from four years of self-imposed exile in London.
Sharif has been PM three times over the past 30 years. His first term ended by him being replaced by a military-backed president in 1993; his second saw him ousted in a coup in 1999, and his third saw Pakistan’s Supreme Court convict him of corruption in 2017. He then had his seven-year jail sentence suspended on medical grounds, permitting him to leave the country for treatment on the condition that he come back within four weeks, which he has not done until now.
Sharif flew into Islamabad on Saturday just days after he was granted protective bail, meaning he cannot be arrested before his next court appearance on Oct. 24. By later that day, his political ambitions were clear: Sharif flew to Lahore, where he told a public rally of tens of thousands of supporters that he would end unemployment, reduce inflation, revive Pakistan’s ailing economy, and “smash the begging bowl” to stop relying on foreign loans.
If he’s allowed to run, Sharif will face an uphill battle against ousted premier Imran Khan, who also faces legal constraints. Khan was jailed in August on corruption charges, which he is fighting, but a poll taken this summer showed that the flamboyant cricket-star-turned politician maintained a 60% approval rating despite his legal troubles.
What could Sharif’s return mean for Pakistan?Sharif sought improved relations with India, an issue that put him at odds with Pakistan’s military establishment. But Khan also lost the military’s support, leading to his ouster in 2022, and some analysts believe Pakistan’s army paved the way for Sharif’s return as the best hope for defeating Khan.
If Sharif prevails, Pakistan’s relations could improve with the west, but this prospect might be complicated by the Israel-Hamas war. Pakistan has been rocked by pro-Palestinian protests, the country has dispatched aid to Gaza, and Sharif’s son-in-law threatened Israel with jihad using his country’s nuclear weapons.
Expect plenty of fireworks in the months ahead as both Khan and Sharif try to fire up their bases by taking to Pakistan’s streets.