Exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party is planning to delay his second return bid to Pakistan till after November 15, when a neutral caretaker government is expected to be in place to supervise the next year's general election.
Sharif, who was exiled after being ousted by General Pervez Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999, was deported back to Saudi Arabia within hours of landing in Islamabad on September 10 despite a Supreme Court ruling that he could return to the country.
A final decision on Sharif's return will be taken at a meeting of the Pakistan Muslim League (N)'s central working committee to be held shortly in London after the former prime minister arrives there from Saudi Arabia, party officials were quoted as saying by The Dawn.
The officials said the decision to delay Sharif's return till after November 15 was made in the wake of his deportation when he made an abortive attempt to land in Islamabad.
"The harsh response of the government, especially of Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi, by arresting all important PML-N leaders and barricading all major highways in (Punjab) province to prevent activists from welcoming their leader in Islamabad shows that the incumbent dispensation is afraid of the return of Sharif for his ability to shake the balance of power by making dents in the ruling PML," the PML-N officials said.
Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have said a neutral caretaker government comprising non-controversial personalities will be formed when the term of the national and provincial assemblies ends on November 15.
The PML-N officials said, "even though the caretakers, to be nominated by the present set-up, will not have any soft corner for (Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif), they may not be as hostile to the exiled family as the Chaudhrys of Gujrat are".
Musharraf has said that Sharif cannot return to Pakistan for another three years under an agreement he had signed in 2000 to go into exile for a decade in exchange for dropping his prison sentence.
PML leaders said "some Arab friends had tried to arrange a meeting between Sharif and PML-Q president Shujaat Husain, but the former refused to reconcile with the latter".