Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan from London on Monday, putting to rest all speculation by political rivals.
He had left for the UK about a month ago to see his wife Kulsoom Nawaz, who is undergoing cancer treatment.
All other members of his family, including daughter Maryam and sons Hussain and Hassan, are also in London and none of them accompanied the ex-PM on his return.
Sharif boarded a PIA flight from London in the early hours of Monday and arrived in Islamabad at around 7:30am.
National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, PML-N information secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan, Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry and Prime Minister's Adviser on Aviation Sardar Mehtab Abbasi were among the several party leaders who received Sharif at Benazir Bhutto International Airport.
Sharif later held an informal meeting with senior PML-N leaders at Punjab House for consultations on his appearance before the accountability court.
Following the meeting, PML-N Senator Asif Kirmani told reporters that Sharif will appear before the accountability court in Islamabad tomorrow in connection with the corruption references filed against him. He said the former prime minister will hold a press conference after his appearance in the court.
Sharif family members told Dawn that although his mother is unwell, Hussain Nawaz will also return to Pakistan, since he doesn’t want it to seem as if he is evading court proceedings.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who is also in London for consultations on political matters, visited his elder brother’s residence to see him off.
The younger Sharif told the media that the decision to return was not taken spontaneously, but had been in the works for some time.
'We did not commit any corruption'
Speaking to reporters before leaving for the airport, the former prime minister said he came to London to inquire after the health of his wife.
In his remarks, Sharif continued to question the court’s decision to disqualify him. “We did not commit any corruption. If this was about Panama [Papers], then why was I disqualified for holding an Iqama?”
Expressing dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court’s handling of his review petitions, Sharif said he had never thought of not returning to Pakistan.
But the ruling party’s rivals, particularly the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leadership, had been claiming that the disqualified prime minister had left to escape accountability in the references filed against him, since his departure on Aug 30.
Sharif has been summoned on Sept 26 in three corruption references, filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). No one from his side, family member or legal counsel, appeared before the accountability court in Islamabad during the hearing of the case on September 19.
Khawaja Haris, one of the lawyers for the Sharif family in the Panama Papers case, also advised the family to join NAB proceedings a couple of days ago.
Taking to Twitter to express herself, Maryam Nawaz Sharif termed her father’s decision to return home a courageous step in the face of the “biased” accountability process that awaits him.
In a couple of tweets on Sunday, she said: “Knowing what he faces is NOT accountability, the man decides to return. It is not about his person anymore. It is the battle of 200 million.”
In another tweet, she maintained: “It takes great courage and valour to be willing to pay the price for challenging what needs to be changed. Not everyone can do that.”
However, this was in contrast to her stance previously. On Sept 19, when asked on Twitter whether her father would face the NAB cases, Maryam Nawaz had tweeted: “He should not. Must not. Should not be a part of political & personal victimisation in the garb of accountability. It’s a FARCE (sic).”
A local PML-N leader told Dawn that Sharif’s arrival would not only put to rest abounding rumours about the former PM’s intentions to avoid arrest, but would also put to rest any fissures among party ranks.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who is also wanted in a NAB reference but had been abroad for the past four weeks, also returned to Islamabad from London. A NAB court had issued bailable arrest warrants for him after he failed to appear on Sept 20.
Dar accompanied Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who returned to the country on Sunday after a week-long visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, as well as a meeting with Nawaz Sharif in London on the way back.