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Pakistan court grants bail to exiled ex-PM Nawaz Sharif ahead of his return

Pakistan court grants bail to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, allowing him to return from exile for a political rally as he plans to lead his party in upcoming elections.

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ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — A Pakistan court granted bail Thursday to exiled former prime minister and graft convict Nawaz Sharif, removing the threat of arrest when he returns to the country this weekend, his lawyer said.

After nearly four years in self-imposed medical exile in the United Kingdom, Sharif is hoping to lead his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party through elections scheduled for January 2024.

The court’s decision allows him to return to his heartland of Lahore on Saturday for a welcome home rally, while his primary opponent Imran Khan languishes in jail.

“The honourable Islamabad High Court has granted Nawaz Sharif protective bail until October 24,” his lawyer Amjad Pervaiz told AFP.

“He can not be arrested on his arrival,” said Pervaiz.

Sharif has been prime minister three times but was ousted in 2017 and given a lifetime disqualification from politics after being convicted of corruption.

He served less than one year of a seven-year sentence before being granted permission to seek medical care in the United Kingdom, ignoring court orders to return during former prime minister Imran Khan’s government.

But his fortunes changed when his brother Shehbaz Sharif came to power last year and his government oversaw changes to the law, including limiting the disqualification of lawmakers from contesting elections to five years.

Analysts have said his return has likely been smoothed by a deal between the powerful military establishment and his party to prevent any significant legal challenges.

The caretaker government — in place until elections — has denied any such agreement.

In and out of favour

The PML-N party, one of the two dynastic parties of the country that frequently swap power, is planning a massive rally through the streets of Lahore on Saturday.

The party is heavily reliant on Nawaz Sharif’s political clout to boost popularity that has slid with a drowning economy and rampant inflation.

While in exile he was widely believed to have been pulling the strings of his brother’s premiership.

Known as the “Lion of Punjab”, he is a political survivor who has repeatedly roared back to the country’s top office.

He has served three terms — but did not complete any of them.

His first, beginning in 1990, ended in 1993 when he was sacked for corruption. The second lasted from 1997 to 1999, when he was deposed by the powerful military.

He blamed the security establishment for again targeting him in 2017 when the Supreme Court disqualified him from politics for life over graft allegations, which he denies.

Prior to his return, he has tempered his anti-army stance.

Pakistan’s army directly ruled the nation for more than three decades and remains hugely powerful behind the scenes.

— AFP

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