Sunday, November 25, 2007

If At First You Don't Succeed: Nawaz Sharif Tries Again

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is due to arrive in Pakistan in just a few hours.

He will be trying to re-enter the country for the second time in three months; he was arrested at the Islamabad airport and deported to Saudi Arabia on September 10th. He'll be flying to Lahore this time, traveling with his brother and his wife.

Nawaz Sharif was deposed and sent into exile in 1999 by Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf, who became President in a bloodless coup.

Speculation from Pakistan suggests that Musharraf may have been summoned to Saudi Arabia last week (his first foreign trip since he declared a state of emergency on November 3) and instructed to admit Nawaz Sharif into the national political process (so that the pro-American Benazir Bhutto would not be the only so-called "opposition" figure in the field).

In the wake of Benazir Bhutto's disastrous homecoming rally in Karachi October 18th, the government has asked Sharif not to do anything similar.

But after his arrest and deportation in September, it's difficult to imagine that his supporters would fail to greet him at the airport in numbers.

Pakistan Times puts it this way:
The workers will make 25th November a historic day by welcoming Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif in an unprecedented way, says Hamza Shahbaz. Addressing a party meeting at PML-N’s office here on Saturday, PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz said the time has come for the workers to welcome their leaders.

He urged all party representatives to mobilize workers in their respective constituencies. He also said the people of this city will prove tomorrow that Lahore is the stronghold of PML-N. PML-N leader Khwaja Saad Rafique said that Sunday will get rise democracy in Pakistan.

He said the PML-N workers will break all barricades on their way to Lahore Airport. The two-time former premier is due to land in Lahore on Sunday afternoon on board a Saudi royal plane, his party said earlier. An official has urged Sharif's party not to organize a mass welcome home rally "because of the current threat of suicide bombings and the law and order situation."
Online News Musharraf won't try to stop Sharif this time:
a senior government official talking to foreign news agency said the government would not obstruct exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s homecoming this time.

"We have no plans to arrest him," the official told foreign news agency.

"The president has said he would provide all political parties an equal chance to participate in the elections."
But the President didn't provide the same assurance to Nawaz Sharif's supporters, as Reuters reports:
Pakistan police detained thousands of supporters of Nawaz Sharif to stop them greeting the former prime minister on his return from exile in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, according to party loyalists.

"There will be no hurdle in his return this time because he's not returning without an understanding," a senior government official said.

Understanding or not, police detained activists from Sharif's party, known as the Nawaz League, before they could come out to welcome him, party officials and police said.

"They have arrested hundreds more people this morning, it must be more than 3,000 more," said Ahsan Iqbal, a party spokesman.

There were several hundred police, carrying riot shields, batons and rifles, at the airport hours before Sharif was due.

"Look at all these men in black," said Imran Abbas Lalika, a 30-year-old marketing researcher, travelling through the airport.

"They are here just to scare people," he said, surveying a concourse swarming with security and with a barbed wire barrier at the international arrivals exit.
Reuters has more.