Fugitive Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif Returns To Pakistan, Shakes Up Political Scene

By Mia Taylor October 22, 2023

Exiled former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, returns to Pakistan, exacerbating tensions ahead of a potentially turbulent election. His return is seen as a significant political development.

The fugitive and former Premier of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has made his way back to his homeland after around four years of self-exile, thereby stirring the nation's already tense political atmosphere as it braces for a likely chaotic national election.

Shafif, previously serving three terms as the head of state and once usurped in a military coup, touched down on Islamabad's airport soil on Saturday, as per airport personnel. As the preceding leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML-N, Sharif was a leading figure in one of the two dynasty-driven parties routinely shaping the nation's political sphere.

Sharif faced disqualification from office following a Supreme Court verdict linked to 2017 corruption allegations. Sentenced to seven years in prison in 2018 under corruption charges—a sentence he firmly denied—he was permitted to seek overseas medical treatment after the sentence was suspended based on health reasons. However, this reprieve fell under the obligation that he repatriate himself within four weeks, a condition Sharif conveniently ignored.

With mere days since an Islamabad court gifted him protective bail, granting immunity from arrest before making a court appearance, his homecoming amplifies the intrigue ahead of an already contentious election. This political unrest traces back to the deposition of another Premier, Imran Khan, a past adversary of Sharif's, leaving Pakistan in a state of political disarray.

In the recent past, public outrage has frequently manifested as street demonstrations protesting Khan's ousting, ever-inflating pricing scales, and contempt toward the nation's influential military — accused by Khan's supporters of having a hand in his deposition, a claim resolutely denied by the military.

Sharif himself, in past instances, has targeted the military as the force behind his downfall. The military has remained a dominant presence in Pakistan's political discourse since its independence in 1947. Sharif's third tenure as prime minister ended in 2017, though he was previously pushed out of office in a 1999 coup and was removed from the premier's chair by a military-backed president in 1993.

Nawaz Sharif's junior sibling, Shehbaz, expressed relief at his elder brother's bail news via a message on X, the rebranded Twitter, characterizing it as a "fundamental right". Shehbaz Sharif tweeted, "The elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was disqualified based on a fictitious and fabricated story,".

"A victim of ridiculous charges and ill-treatment, a just hearing would have proven his innocence," wrote Shehbaz, who assumed prime minister duties in 2022, holding on to it until August this year. His term ended upon his government's replacement by a caretaker formation, dissolving parliament in anticipation of the upcoming national vote.

Shehbaz Sharif's tenure, following Khan's ousting—who now resides in prison on corruption charges—was marked by dire financial concerns, including skyrocketing fuel and food costs, and an unstable economy. These issues significantly impacted the popularity of the PML-N party. The expectation now is Nawaz Sharif will lead the party as the frontman of its election campaign.