More political turbulence is the last thing Pakistanis need now. But going by the latest developments in their country, they don’t seem to have a choice. No one quite expected former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return home whistling, nonchalantly pick up the political threads where he left off, win a third term in office and live happily ever after. Least of all Mr Sharif himself, who must have known that President Pervez Musharraf would leave no stone unturned to keep him out of Pakistan’s political stage at this crucial juncture. So Mr Sharif’s forced exile in Saudi Arabia — where he was reportedly sent, shortly after returning on Monday from London to Islamabad for the briefest while — is not surprising.
From all accounts, authorities sealed the airport and detained thousands of Mr Sharif’s supporters who’d gathered to welcome their exiled leader. With army commandos surrounding him the moment he landed, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader didn’t have a choice but to walk off the plane with his entourage, and board another flight bound for Jeddah. President Musharraf played his cards well by allowing Mr Sharif to land on Pakistani soil — as ordered by the recent Supreme Court verdict — and then packing him off to serve out the rest of his original exile term of ten years.
That said, the general may have taken a huge political risk by enforcing the exile option on Mr Sharif, who appears to be more popular in Pakistan now than at any time during his two terms as Prime Minister. By refusing to deal with Mr Musharraf, he is seen by many quarters in Pakistan as not turning into 'another Benazir Bhutto'.
Now, there is evidently much anger over rising food prices, increasing social inequality and economic insecurity, and the general indifference of the government that characterised its responses to several humanitarian crises in Pakistan. No wonder that the general read the tea leaves and decided on the lesser risk of a politically handicapped Mr Sharif fighting a proxy electoral battle from Saudi Arabia, in preference to taking on Mr Sharif’s Muslim League in his own backyard.