Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan on Saturday as a proclaimed offender in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references, having secured protective bail from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to submit himself to court no later than Oct. 24. Despite criticisms from the usual suspects, this is hardly extraordinary, as courts in Pakistan are generally liberal in allowing bail to prominent personalities, regardless of their case status. Regardless, he remains a convict and needs to revive pending appeals as well as seek clarity on his “lifetime” disqualification before he can proceed to contesting the next general elections, as indicated by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).
It is no secret that Nawaz Sharif has not been particularly lucky as a prime minister. He did not complete any of his three tenures as prime minister, ousted midway through in 1993, 1999, and 2017. His first ouster came about due to a military-backed president; the second was the result of a military coup; while the judiciary brought about the third. Of these, two eventually resulted in extended exiles abroad, with the latest spanning four years after he flew to London on bail on medical grounds. His return, therefore, naturally raises the question of whether a potential fourth win to the Prime Minister’s Office would prove any better.
In his speech, Sharif recalled some of his major accomplishments, including attempts to normalize ties with India; end loadshedding; and present Pakistan as a nuclear power. But is this reflection on past conquests sufficient to attract a voter base that now largely comprises youth too young to recall his party’s heyday? Despite an impressive crowd of tens of thousands at his “homecoming” rally, this question would remain unanswered until elections due for early next year. For now, he has returned to a vote bank significantly more dented than ever before, with daggers drawn by both the PTI and PPP, who clearly see him as a threat to their own bid for electoral dominance.