By Dr. Nayyer Ali


Nawaz Comes and Goes

September 21, 2007

Nawaz Sharif took up the Supreme Court’s clearance to return to Pakistan by flying from London to Islamabad with hopes of confronting Musharraf and restaking his claim to political power in Pakistan. But within a few hours of landing, he was on a flight to Jeddah, and as of this writing, has not spoken publicly about the turn of events.
Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister in 1999 when Musharraf seized power in a military coup, a coup that was greeted by relief and joy in the country and among all the political parties except Nawaz’s. The PPP handed out sweets in response to the military coup. Nawaz was then tried for treason and attempted murder (based on his order that a 747 carrying Musharraf and several hundred civilians and running out of fuel be denied landing at Karachi) and found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison, but sent into exile in Saudi Arabia in exchange for an agreement to stay out of Pakistani politics and remain in exile for 10 years. Allegedly the deal was brokered and guaranteed by the Saudis themselves.
Initially Nawaz abided by the terms, as did the rest of his family. But politics could not be abandoned, and he issued statements and appeals on behalf of his party. He notably signed the “Charter of Democracy” last year with Benazir Bhutto, but that understanding now appears to be a dead letter. His brother attempted to return from exile a few years back but was immediately forced onto a plane back to Saudi Arabia.
While prospects for Nawaz looked bleak in 2007, things got brighter for Benazir. As elections loomed and the pressure to get reelected President became more intense, Musharraf looked for options. With prodding from the US, a Musharraf alliance with Benazir and the PPP seemed to be in the offing. Then the disastrous sacking of the Chief Justice scrambled the picture.
After weeks of severe criticism and protests by lawyers, Musharraf had to accept the return of the Chief Justice, and the de facto independence of the Supreme Court. It now looked even murkier as to how Musharraf was going to get reelected President and keep his uniform. Deal-making with the PPP heated up, but still could not be finalized. Then the Court ruled that the exile agreement of Nawaz Sharif was not valid, and he had the right to return. The prospect of a Nawaz Sharif-led PML in the next election made everyone nervous, especially as he would be campaigning against Musharraf’s rule, while Benazir would be aligned with Musharraf. An electoral disaster in which both Musharraf and Benazir lose out to Nawaz seemed to be possible. At this point, the politicians in Musharraf’s PML-Q party got very worried. They refused to make a deal with Benazir, and some began to send out feelers to Nawaz to see if they could get back into his good graces. Musharraf could see the whole thing falling apart.
Nawaz then gambled on returning immediately to Pakistan. He flew into the country on Monday September 10, but was immediately arrested on corruption charges. The government claims he was then offered the choice of staying in the country to face the charges, or returning to Saudi Arabia, and he chose to return. Interestingly, Nawaz himself has not commented on what happened. His supporters have gone back to the Supreme Court, but if he did leave voluntarily, there is nothing the Court will do about it.
Once back in Saudi, it might be that the Saudis themselves will force Nawaz to abide by the original 10-year deal. They had publicly urged him not to return to Pakistan and he rejected their plea. Now that he is under their control, he might not be given the chance to leave Saudi again.
For Musharraf and Benazir, this leaves the door open again to a deal. If Benazir can honestly show that such a deal means a return to real democratic rule and an end to military domination, then she can sell the deal to the public as a necessary evolutionary step. If however it is perceived as a self-serving deal to get power, it might backfire badly. Comments can reach me at



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