Ex-Pakistan Leader Returns to Hero's Welcome

Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returns home from eight years in exile.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 10:55 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 25, 2007 — -- Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan Sunday evening, marking a turning point in the political power struggle gripping this nation.

He and his family were flown from Saudi Arabia to Lahore in a jet provided by King Abdullah.

Unlike on Sept. 10, when Sharif made his first attempt to enter the country, this time there were no police waiting to detain and deport him. Instead, Sharif received a hero's welcome. Thousands of his supporters crowded into the airport in Lahore to greet him upon his arrival. Some held signs and chanted, "Go Musharraf Go!"

Earlier in the day, police clashed with supporters trying to get through a security cordon outside the airport terminal, but the police eventually let hundreds of party members through. Sharif exited the arrivals terminal flanked by dozens of airport security guards, and was immediately swarmed by his supporters.

Before he took off from Medina, he told the BBC, "We want democracy and nothing else. I am here to play my role and also make my own efforts to ride the country of dictatorship."

Sharif's return means that he can contest the parliamentary elections, which Musharraf's chosen caretaker government has said will occur on Jan. 8. He arrived just in time to meet the Monday deadline for filing nomination papers.

Sharif is the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, while Musharraf's party is the Pakistan Muslim League. Analysts say that Sharif's return to the political stage could steal votes from PML, especially as Musharraf's emergency rule has discredited him among some party members.

However, Musharraf could also stand to gain if Sharif and the other main opposition leader Benazir Bhutto participate in the elections, because they would lend credibility to the polls. Musharraf has been under international pressure to hold fair and democratic elections.

It is now virtually guaranteed that Musharraf will be sworn-in for a second five-year term as president. He overcame legal challenges to his re-election, and now all that remains between him and a second term is an official announcement of his victory by the cabinet, which is expected early this week.