[JURIST] Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; party profile] successfully returned to Pakistan after seven years in exile Sunday to lead his party [Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) website] in the upcoming parliamentary elections. He flew from Saudi Arabia into the international airport in Lahore, his hometown and traditional power base. A spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf insisted prior to Sharif's arrival [Bloomberg report] that he would "be treated very well and will not be arrested or placed under house arrest, and that he will be a free man." In early September Sharif was arrested on outstanding corruption and money laundering charges [JURIST report] shortly after landing in the country on a flight from London. He was later put on a plane back to exile in Saudi Arabia despite his wishes and notwithstanding an August ruling [JURIST report] by the Supreme Court of Pakistan that he could return to the country. Sharif was overthrown by Musharraf in a 1999 military coup; he was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for treason and corruption but was allowed go into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.
Media reports Sunday suggested that Musharraf had allowed Sharif to return this time because the Saudi government was no longer willing to support his exile on their territory. Allowing Sharif to return and run in the upcoming parliamentary elections may, however, lend a measure of political legitimacy to Musharraf's November 3 declaration of emergency rule [JURIST news archive], expected to remain in place until the elections are over. Sharif's erstwhile opposition rival Benazir Bhutto, another former prime minister allowed to return from exile [JURIST report] last month under an amnesty deal which may now be in jeopardy [JURIST report], filed her own nomination papers for the elections Friday. AP has more.