LAHORE / LONDON, Nov 24: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will be landing at the Lahore airport at 4pm on Sunday, PML-N sources told Dawn.

The twice-exiled PML-N leader will be using a special plane of Saudi King Abdullah when he, along with his wife Kulsoom Nawaz, former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and other family members, will leave for Pakistan from Saudi Arabia.

Shahbaz Sharif and Begum Kulsoom Nawaz left London on Saturday evening for Madina to join Nawaz Sharif.

According to the party’s tentative reception plan, immediately after landing at the Lahore airport, Mr Sharif will be taken to Data Sahib’s shrine through Saddar Bazaar, Dharampura, Garhi Shahu, Laxmi Chowk, Gowalmandi, and Circular Road.

After offering prayers at the shrine, he will leave for his Raiwind residence.

Nawaz Sharif’s spokesman Zaeem Qadri said the former prime minister would address a public meeting at Bhati Gate. However, the party has not sought official permission for the purpose.

He said the party had not sought any official security cover for Mr Sharif. The government had been told: “As we are threatened by none, there is no need for any security blanket.”

However, Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza Shahbaz said the PML-N leader would use a bullet-proof vehicle gifted by King Abdullah. The vehicle was flown to Lahore airport on Saturday night by a C-130 plane.

Local party officials claimed that tens of thousands of people would greet the Sharifs at the airport.

Zaeem Qadri said the party had mobilised workers belonging to the Lahore division. However, activists from other areas and provinces were also coming to welcome their leader.

The party’s chairman, Raja Zafarul Haq, acting president Javed Hashmi, Nisar Ali Khan and leaders from other provinces started pouring into the city on Saturday evening.

Sources in the Punjab government indicated that PML-N workers might not be allowed to enter the airport because of security concerns.

A source based in Jeddah said Mr Sharif’s adviser, Brig (retd) Niaz, was in touch with the authorities in Islamabad to assure them that the party’s show would remain peaceful.

POLL BOYCOTT: Talking to Dawn before leaving London, Shahbaz Sharif favoured boycotting the coming elections.

He, however, agreed that by participating in the polls, the opposition would be able to “corner President Musharraf into rigging them, exposing him both inside and outside the country”.

And he also implied that a boycott would not succeed unless the PPP joined it.

He answered in the affirmative when asked if Nawaz Sharif, who had been convicted in the hijacking case, would be able to file his nomination papers. “If Benazir, who too is a convict, could file the nomination, why cannot Nawaz.”

In reply to a question what had changed between Sept 10 -- when the Saudi government allowed Mr Nawaz to live in Saudi Arabia after he was expelled from Pakistan -- and now, Mr Shahbaz said he was not privy to the discussions that took place between his brother and the royal family.

However, he spoke of an “unspoken understanding” between Nawaz Sharif and King Abdullah that if Benazir Bhutto returned home, the Saudi government would no more be obliged to continue to play host to the Sharifs.

He did not rule out the possibility that the seeming loss of goodwill among the people of Pakistan for the Saudi government because of its collaboration with President Musharraf could have influenced Riaydh to reject Islamabad’s pleas this time.

In reply to a question whether the Saudi intelligence chief and Lebanon’s Saad Hariri had urged the Sharifs them to delay their departure for Pakistan until after Gen Musharraf’s election, Mr Shahbaz answered in the affirmative. But, he added, the two officials opposed only Nawaz’s return, and not Shahbaz’s.

He also did not rule out the possibility that King Abdullah had received the “right kind of advice” from London when he was here on an official visit last month.

Sources say when British officials urged the Saudi king to let Sharifs go back home, the king turned around and asked them if London would accept Nawaz this time if he was again sent out by President Musharraf. No one was willing to hazard a guess as to the British officials’ response.

Shahbaz Sharif said he could see the logic in the contention that once Nawaz Sharif went back, it would be almost impossible for the Chaudhry brothers to keep the PML-Q from disintegrating.

“With no political party to rig the elections and with the Army and the ISI not available to him after he takes off the uniform, Gen Musharraf will be left with no option but to hold fair and free elections.”

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