Deposed prime minister and proclaimed offender Nawaz Sharif, who returned to Pakistan today after spending four years in self-imposed exile, said he has “no wish for revenge” and stressed on beginning a “new journey” towards growth.
“There are some wounds that take time to heal, but I have no wish for revenge. Nawaz Sharif only wishes for the well-being of the people,” he said during an address at his homecoming rally in Lahore.
The elder Sharif arrived in Islamabad in the afternoon, where he completed legal and biometric formalities. His chartered plane landed in the capital city with more than 150 people from his party and media organisations, the PML-N said.
Observers say the reason Nawaz arrived in Islamabad first was that his touchdown in the capital was necessary to make bail, earlier granted by the Islamabad High Court on Oct 19.
After completing the formalities, Nawaz left for Lahore on his plane and reached his hometown a little after 5pm. He was welcomed by his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif and other party leaders at the airport. Nawaz was then flown to Lahore Fort on a helicopter.
He then offered Maghreb prayers at the Lahore Fort with Shehbaz, Ishaq Dar and other party leaders before making his way to the Minar-i-Pakistan. Upon arrival, a visibly emotional Nawaz embraced his daughter Maryam and greeted other party leaders on stage.
At the outset of his speech, the PML-N supremo said: “I am meeting you today after several years, but my relationship of love with you is the same.
“There is no difference in this relationship. The love I am seeing in your eyes, I am proud of it.”
Nawaz said he never betrayed his supporters nor did he shy away from any kind of sacrifice. He recalled how “fake cases” were framed against him and his party leaders. “But no one abandoned the PML-N flag.”
“Tell me, who separated Nawaz Sharif from his nation? We are those who built Pakistan. We made Pakistan an atomic power. We brought an end to loadshedding,” he said, highlighting how he produced and provided “cheap” electricity to the people.
Responding to the crowd cheering, Nawaz said: “I know you want to hear that I love you too.”
“Today, trust me, after seeing your love, I have forgotten all my grief and pain. I don’t even want to remember. But, there are some wounds that can’t ever heal.”
Nawaz, in a quivering voice, said how he had lost his mother and wife “to politics”. He recalled how he couldn’t pay his final respects to his mother, father or wife, despite repeated requests to the jail superintendent in his wife’s case.
“I kept thinking about how difficult could it possibly be for him to just arrange a phone call. After 2.5 hours, his number 2 man came and told me that my wife has passed away,” the deposed PM said, adding that he had stopped them from giving Maryam the news.
“What would she have gone through […] this is our own country, I am a true Pakistani, the love for Pakistan is in my chest,” he said.
Nawaz further recalled the impediments he faced at the time of making Pakistan an atomic power. “There will be record present in the Foreign Office that Clinton offered me $5bn […] this happened in 1999 […] I could have been offered $1 or 2 billion too, but I was born in the land of Pakistan and this did not permit me to accept what is against Pakistan’s favour.
“Tell me, if someone else would have been in my place — you know who — could he have said this to the American president? So, do we get punished for this? Are verdicts announced against us for this reason?” he said.
Nawaz compared how roti and petrol cost way higher today as compared to when he was in power. “Was I ousted for this reason? What is this decision? You are the public, you tell, do you agree with this decision?”
The PML-N supremo lamented how the country was in a dire state today but at the same time vowed to redirect Pakistan to the path of growth.
He further stated that if Pakistan was run on his 1990 economic model, “not a single person would have been unemployed, there would be no such thing as poverty […] but today, the conditions are so bad that one has to think if they can feed their children or pay electricity bills”.
Nawaz clarified that these tough economic conditions weren’t created during the Shehbaz Sharif-led government but traced back to a long time.
“Is this why you ousted me? We were making Pakistan the Asian Tiger, we wanted to take Pakistan to G20,” he said, adding that dharnas were held during his tenure but he kept working for the public.
The PML-N supremo also waved two copies of electricity bills, which he claimed were from May 2016 and August 2022, and highlighted the exorbitant increase in them. “Was this done by Shehbaz Sharif? I am not defending him, I am presenting facts.”
At one point, Nawaz, in an apparent reference to incarcerated PTI Chairman Imran Khan, said he did not want to take names as per his upbringing and training.
Nawaz reiterated that he had forgotten the past after seeing the public’s love, but quoted a verse from Ghalib: “Zindagi apni kuch is shakal se guzri ghalib, hum bhi kya yaad karain gain k khuda rakhte they.”
During the address, Nawaz said PML-N was asked about its narrative. “Ask this from the Orange Line, ask this from Green Line, ask this from the motorway, ask our narrative from the Chagai atomic bombs, ask our narrative from the dollar rate, ask our narrative from our morals.”
The PML-N, he continued, was not among those who disrespected others. “And I believe that the difficulties the people of Pakistan are facing, we need to focus on the reasons and, according to the spirit of the Constitution, make a plan for the future together.”
He stressed that state institutions, politics and all the pillars of state needed to work together. “Everyone needs to come together to strengthen the Constitution and remove the disease that affects the country again and again.
“We need to begin a new journey,” Nawaz pointed out. “We need to decide on how we will get our lost position back, how we will have to run on double speed, how we will have to break the begging bowl forever, how we will have to stand on our feet […] how we will have to make a strong foreign policy and create good relations with the world.
“Even for the Kashmir solution, we will have to work in an honourable way.”
“I want to give a message to my youth that you aren’t here to spend your life in adverse ways, the path [forward] is difficult but not impossible,” he said, adding that the PML-N’s aim would be to bring ease to the people.
Nawaz, taking a dig at Imran without naming him, said he also carried prayer beads but did not feel the need to show them in public.
Separately, addressing the rally earlier, Maryam described how the streets were packed in Lahore today to welcome Nawaz. Standing alongside her cousin and former Punjab chief minister Hamza Shehbaz, she asserted that those who talked about differences within the PML-N had been proven wrong.
Rallies from various regions of the country poured into Lahore, a party spokesperson said. Heavy police contingents were deployed to guard the rally’s venue, said police officer Ali Nasir Rizvi.
Nawaz speaks to media at Dubai airport
“I’m going back to Pakistan after four years today,” Nawaz said today while speaking to the media at Dubai Airport. “When I was leaving Pakistan and going abroad I had no feeling of happiness but today I am happy.”
The ousted premier said he wished the country was in a better state than it was in 2017.
“I get very worried and disappointed seeing the situation in the country. The country that had to move forward is going backwards now economically and unity-wise.”
Terming the situation as “worrisome”, Nawaz said there was still hope and “we should not let it slip from our hands as we are capable of fixing it because we spoilt it ourselves”.
He said the country had to get back on its feet as “nobody else will lift us up”.
“When I remember Pakistan back then, I get hurt, we had said goodbye to the International Monetary Fund, electricity was cheap, the rupee was stable, there was employment, roti cost Rs4, a poor family’s child went to school and medicines were also cheap.”
Nawaz said only the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) can decide when polls will be held, adding that it was the only competent authority and a fair election commission.
“Whatever date the ECP announces, everyone will [abide by it]. My priority is whatever the ECP says. Pakistan has a fair ECP today and I feel it will make the best decision with regards to the election.
“The process takes time. Some work is left. A census has been done. Delimitations have to be carried out. ECP has an eye on all these things.
“We are completely ready for elections,” he added.
Lamenting the treatment meted out to him in the past, Nawaz said he was the person who had gone through 150 court hearings. “Not just me but also my daughter. She even got a clean chit. She had to get it. She didn’t have a position during my government, not even an office.”
He said “fake cases” were not just filed against his family including former prime minister and his brother Shehbaz Sharif but also ex-interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi.
“I even said before leaving that I leave everything to Allah and I still continue doing that.”
Nawaz smirked and said “We are the May 28 ones” when asked about the May 9 violence allegedly carried out by the PTI.
Pakistan conducted nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, under the leadership of the then prime minister Nawaz.
PTI laments ‘two constitutions’
Reacting to Nawaz’s arrival, PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan called out the “two constitutions”, comparing the manner in which Nawaz’s biometrics were verified to that in which Imran’s were verified in the past.
He said, “This picture is not only of Nawaz Sharif’s biometrics, but of the funeral of Pakistan’s judicial system. The whole world has seen the coercion and treatment meted out to Imran Khan for the same biometrics.”
PTI leader Khurram Sher Zaman also criticised the judiciary for “facilitating the return of a convicted figure”.
In a post on X, he said, “By facilitating the return of a convicted fugitive, the justice system has given a slap to the faces of the people of Pakistan and sadly, they have no hesitations or shame in doing it.”
Additional input from AFP and Reuters