Three-time Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to his homeland on Saturday, 21 October, ending a four-year self-exile in London and ahead of his push to win the support of Pakistan's electorate ahead of the parliamentary elections due in January 2024.
Sharif addressed a rally in his hometown on Islamabad, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers have been seen celebrating following his arrival.
"I am meeting you today after many years, but my relationship of love with you is the same. There is no difference in this relationship... I was put in jail, fake cases were registered against me, Maryam..." Sharif said at the rally.
After flying from London to Saudi Arabia, and further to Dubai, Sharif took a "special flight" from Dubai to arrive in Islamabad
Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had permitted a special plane to carry the PML-N chief back to Pakistan. A notification stated that a chartered plane would depart for Islamabad from Dubai and land at the Islamabad International Airport.
Subsequently, Sharif will depart for Lahore, ARY News reported.
“Today I am going to Pakistan after four years and I am feeling very happy with the grace of Allah. It would be great if the situation in Pakistan was better today than it was in 2017," Sharif told reporters before leaving for Islamabad, the Times of India reported.
The Journey to Self-Exile and Back
Sharif secured a resounding victory in 2013 to assume power but saw his final term marred by tumultuous events commencing with a then-opposition-led blockade of Islamabad and his eventual disqualification by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2017. This verdict followed extensive hearings prompted by the "Panama Papers" revelations relating to alleged corruption during his preceding two tenures.
The former Prime Minister was convicted in absentia while he was in London tending to his ailing wife, Geo News reported.
On 13 July 2018, Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who is the PML-N's Vice President and Chief Organiser, were apprehended upon their arrival in Lahore from London.
After approaching the Islamabad High Court, the pair received respite, with the Islamabad HC decreeing the release of Sharif and Maryam, along with a temporary suspension of their sentences, according to Geo News.
However, in December of the same year, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) imposed a seven-year imprisonment and a PKR 1.5 billion fine on Sharif in the Al-Azizia sugar mills case.
Sharif was was detained directly from the courtroom after the accountability court judge announced the verdict in the corruption case, stemming from the Supreme Court's 2016 "Panama-gate" ruling. This verdict also led to Sharif's disqualification from holding any public office for a decade.
In October 2019, Sharif received a diagnosis of an immune system disorder while serving his sentence in the Al-Azizia case, and reports say that doctors recommended medical treatment abroad.
The former PM secured interim bail in the sugar mills case on medical grounds. Following this, the Islamabad HC granted Sharif an eight-week bail in the Al-Azizia case due to his deteriorating health.
In November 2019, the Lahore HC permitted Sharif to travel overseas for four weeks, instructing the Imran Khan government to lift his travel restrictions without imposing any conditions. This decision was made after Sharif assured the court of his timely return, as reported by Geo News.
The court also authorised Sharif to extend his stay abroad based on medical evaluations.
On 1 September 2020, the Islamabad HC directed the former PM to surrender and appear in court, citing the expiration of his bail on 27 February. The court also issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Sharif due to his non-compliance with the orders.
Sharif was subsequently labeled a "proclaimed offender" in both cases for his deliberate failure to return to the country and appear before the court, despite multiple notices, arrest warrants, and public announcements, as reported by Geo News.
However, in a significant development in September of this year, his brother and then PM Shehbaz Sharif declared, on 21 October, as Sharif's anticipated return to Pakistan. This announcement coincided with preparations for the upcoming general elections and the dissolution of the National Assembly.
On 6 October, a recent medical report of the former premier was submitted to the Lahore HC, underscoring Sharif's need for continuous monitoring due to lingering cardiac symptoms.
Finally, on 19 October, Sharif was granted protective bail in two corruption cases, and an accountability court suspended his arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case, clearing all legal obstacles for his seamless return to the country, as per Geo News.