This article was published in Dawn News on Oct 20, 2023, at the following link
In all likelihood, three-time former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif will land in Pakistan on Saturday after four years to lead PML-N’s election campaign. He is making yet another, and probably the most uphill, bid to form a government in the upcoming election which is scheduled in about three months.
Elections in Pakistan usually provide occasions for the tumultuous homecoming of political leaders who have spent years in forced or self-imposed exile in foreign countries. Their political parties try to stage a spectacular show on their return to kickstart the election campaign on a high note. Not all such efforts have proven to be successful in the past.
Benazir Bhutto was greeted by a mammoth and charged crowd when she had returned to Lahore in 1986 after a two-year self-imposed exile. The momentum generated by the historic reception ultimately led to Bhutto’s victory in the election of 1988.
She was not so lucky when she returned to Pakistan the second time in 2007. She was again welcomed by a large crowd at Karachi airport and while the procession led by Benazir moved on the main street, a powerful bomb attack killed nearly 190 persons. She escaped the assassination attempt but two months later, was assassinated in a second bomb attack after addressing an election rally.
Nawaz Sharif was exiled for ten years under a brokered agreement after his government was toppled in October 1999. He, however, made a botched attempt to return in 2007 but was not even allowed to come out of the airport and a hostile military government deported him again after four hours. He, however, successfully returned to Pakistan two months later to a huge welcome after reaching an understanding with the military government.
Another disappointing homecoming of Nawaz Sharif was just before the 2018 election when he and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were arrested upon arrival and taken to prison. The video footage of Sharif and his daughter being hauled away by the security agencies not only demoralized PML-N supporters, it created an impression that the security establishment would not let his party come into power. It was not surprising that Sharif’s popularity graph significantly dipped after his arrest.