first_imgThe government has indicated that it plans to thwart their plans and has warned Sharif not to return. But it remained unclear whether the government planned either to deport him to Saudi Arabia, where he has spent much of his time in exile, or to arrest him. Sharif reached Heathrow Airport in London on Sunday evening along with a large group of reporters and supporters. The journalists accompanying Sharif were divided into two groups, one taking a Gulf Air flight and the other joining him on the Pakistan International Airlines flight. “I’m very excited to be returning after seven years,” he said, before boarding the direct flight from London to Islamabad. As for what kind of reception he expected in Pakistan, he said: “I have a mission that is much more important than any reception – to restore democracy in the country and restore the rule of law. So it is a very noble mission that I have.” Asked if he expected a safe landing, he said, “We hope so.” ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Uncertainty, anticipation and anxiety gripped Pakistan as Nawaz Sharif, an opposition leader and former prime minister, began his trip to return to the country after seven years in exile. Sharif, whose government was toppled by Pakistan’s current president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in a bloodless coup in 1999, was expected to land at Islamabad airport this morning. He announced that he would return after the country’s supreme court ruled in late August that he could. The ruling came after Musharraf unsuccessfully tried to oust the court’s chief justice. Sharif’s supporters said they were planning a rousing welcome. Before boarding the plane, Sharif told his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who faces arrest in Pakistan on murder charges, that it was not necessary for him to return to Pakistan. Shahbaz Sharif faces five counts of murder in cases the Pakistani government recently reopened, but he had been planning to return to Pakistan on Sunday on a separate plane from London. Nawaz Sharif served as prime minister twice in the 1990s, and he leads an opposition faction of the country’s governing party, the Pakistan Muslim League. He has consistently been one of the most vocal and defiant opponents of Musharraf, who is considered an important ally of the United States in its effort to curb terrorism. Pakistani officials remained tight-lipped about their strategy. “I can’t say,” Sheik Rashid Ahmed, the country’s minister of railways, told Dawn News, a television news channel, in regard to what the government planned to do about Sharif’s arrival. Ahsan Iqbal, the information secretary of Sharif’s political party, said Sunday that “Islamabad seems under siege.” Security was increased in Islamabad and an adjacent city, Rawalpindi, on Sunday. Police officers were stationed at intersections leading to the Islamabad airport and other entry points to the city. Barbed wire was strung and barricades were set up around the airport. By midnight, local reporters were told to vacate the airport premises.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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