Three-time former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif plans to return to Pakistan next month and then win the elections to become prime minister for a fourth time. But other political parties are not so sure that would happen, or at the very least without strong electoral opposition from them.
Nawaz'sNawaz's party had sent out feelers through indirect invitations to other political parties who had allied with it under the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to join the welcoming party for the deposed prime minister. But the jury is still out on whether he will get the kind of reception he wants.
Nawaz Sharif and those close to him have confirmed that he will end his four-year self-imposed exile by returning to Pakistan on October 21. Thus, He has started getting into campaign mode with the sort of thorny statements that defined his politics in exile.
Most of his political allies, who had banded together to form the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to oust the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, point to a plethora of legal challenges which Nawaz would have to tackle first.
They point to how the PML-N supremo had left Pakistan in November 2019 to seek medical treatment in the UK following his conviction in the Panama Papers case. When he did not return in the stipulated time, he was deemed an absconder the following February. Later, in 2020, courts declared him as a proclaimed offender.
And while he is set to return next month, clouds have started gathering after the Supreme Court struck down some amendments to the NAB laws and ordered to restore all inquiries and investigations against senior politicians, including Nawaz.
In conversation with The Friday Times, the main political parties doubted Nawaz would return now unless he could freely move around to lead his party's electoral campaign.
A major ally, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), does not share Nawaz's ambition to become a prime minister for the fourth time. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari joked that the Constitution should be changed to ensure Sharif's premiership.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which played a role in Nawaz'sNawaz's conviction before being ousted from power by a coalition led by Nawaz'sNawaz's party, said they would not welcome Nawaz'sNawaz's return.
PTI Spokesperson Rauf Hassan said that the path for Nawaz'sNawaz's return to Pakistan and politics in the country was arduous.
First, Hassan said, Nawaz must face all the legal cases against him.
"Nawaz Sharif is an absconder, and he should first surrender if he is serious about his return," he said.
PTI's legal brain, Shoaib Shaheen, said that Nawaz Sharif has twice left the country on his own to live in exile.
"He [Nawaz Sharif] has to face all cases against him," he remarked.
Maulana Abdul Wasay, a senior leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), told The Friday Times that he was not sure whether Nawaz Sharif would return after the verdict passed by former chief justice Umar Atta Bandial, which annulled some amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999. The amendments had been made by the PDM coalition government. He added that unless that action is overturned, the legal complications for Nawaz will increase manifold.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan'sMovement-Pakistan's (MQM-P) senior leader Zahid Malik said politicians should opt to face cases rather than flee the country.
"It could be the wish of Nawaz Sharif to become prime minister a fourth time," he said, suggesting that it was not an idea they necessarily shared.
Rashid Umar, a spokesperson for Jamaat-e-Islami, said that if Nawaz Sharif was loyal to his country, he should stay in Pakistan to seek medical treatment afterwards.
"An absconder should face a court case and then think about contesting in the polls," he said.
Meanwhile, the PML-N is betting big on Nawaz.
A senior party official, who did not wish to be named, said that the party supremo will lead the party's election campaign upon return.
"Nawaz Sharif is the only choice to put the country back on track," former federal minister for parliamentary affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi told The Friday Times separately.
Nawaz's return poses the biggest problem to Nawaz and his party and their electoral hopes. But the path head looks to be quite lonely.