Even if Nawaz returns and sets the campaign trail on fire, the pieces are in place to thwart a last-minute PML-N wave. South Punjab, independents, Lahore, fire-breathing mullahs, blunt pressure — so many ways to break the will and the vote bank of the N-League.

Return to Pakistan and then what? If the election’s already lost, then being inside Pakistan, on the ECL or in jail, Nawaz will have the following to contend with:

A Supreme Court packed with future chief justices as far as the eye can see who have already declared Nawaz disqualified for life; a military high command that is virtually hardwired to regard him with suspicion or loathing; and a parliament and federal government stuffed with his political enemies.

Read Cyril Almeida discuss what might — and might not — happen to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif should he return or choose exile here.