- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2007


LONDON — Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said yesterday he would return home tomorrow, despite a call from Saudi Arabia — a guarantor of his exile deal — for him to stay away for the sake of Pakistani stability.

Mr. Sharif, whom army chief Pervez Musharraf ousted in 1999 and sent into exile in Saudi Arabia the following year, is due to arrive home from London tomorrow. He has vowed to start a campaign to end the rule of Gen. Musharraf, who since has been elected president and is seeking a second term.

Speaking to reporters in London, Mr. Sharif said he would return to Pakistan as planned. He said he was “shocked and saddened” by the reaction from both Saudi Arabia and Gen. Musharraf to his plans.

“If there is bloodshed on my return, it will be a tragedy for Pakistan,” he added.

The return of Mr. Sharif is a serious challenge for Gen. Musharraf, who has lost much public support since trying to dismiss the country’s top judge in March. The government has been trying to block Mr. Sharif’s return, at least until after Gen. Musharraf tries to secure another term in a presidential election by the national and provincial assemblies some time between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.

Gen. Musharraf sent Mr. Sharif to Saudi Arabia in 2000 as part of what the government says was an agreement that Mr. Sharif would stay in exile for 10 years. In return, he avoided a life sentence on hijacking and corruption charges.

But the supreme court last month said Mr. Sharif had an “inalienable right” to return. Mr. Sharif later said he made no exile deal with the government and is determined to return tomorrow, along with his politician brother, Shahbaz.

Pakistan officials said the Saudi Arabian royal family and assassinated Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri guaranteed the exile deal.

Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and Mr. Hariri’s son, Saad, met Gen. Musharraf for talks yesterday.

“We are hoping, we are really hoping, sincerely hoping, His Excellency Nawaz Sharif honors this agreement,” Prince Muqrin later told reporters.

He said he hoped everyone would put Pakistan’s national interest and security before personal interest. He said Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “helped the Sharif family to get out of imprisonment” with the agreement.

The king “hopes, for the sake of the national interest of Pakistan, that all parties concerned with the agreement will honor and adhere to the terms,” Prince Muqrin said.

Asked about the supreme court ruling that Mr. Sharif had the right to come home, Prince Muqrin said: “Which comes first, the agreement or the supreme court? We respect fully the supreme court and law of every land, but you still have an agreement.”

Saad Hariri has met Mr. Sharif in Britain, but Mr. Sharif had rejected any suggestion he postpone his return, a Pakistani official said.

The government has not said what it will do if and when Mr. Sharif and his brother arrive in Islamabad. They could be arrested — both Sharif brothers face various charges — or they could be put on an aircraft back out of the country, as Shahbaz was when he tried to come home in 2004.

Prince Muqrin said Saudi Arabia would welcome Mr. Sharif if Gen. Musharraf deported him: “Saudi Arabia is for all our brothers and sisters all over the Muslim world.”

A court on Friday ordered the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif on charges linked to the extrajudicial killing of five men in 1998 when he was chief minister of Punjab province.

Nawaz Sharif faces graft charges.

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