In a moment that brimmed with anticipation, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, made a long-awaited return to his homeland after four years of self-imposed exile. Lahore’s Greater Iqbal Park became the epicenter of this grand homecoming, with a throng of supporters gathering to welcome the political heavyweight. The atmosphere was electric, with a palpable sense of excitement, even though Mr. Sharif’s demeanor initially appeared stoic. The emotions that must have surged within him became visible when he was embraced by his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, in a poignant moment that stirred the onlookers.
As they shared an emotional hug, it was a reminder that beneath the veneer of composure, emotions ran deep. In his speech to the gathered crowd, Mr. Sharif did not hide the immense challenges he had faced. He shared a verse that hinted at the deluge of tears that would flow if he were to dwell on the trials and tribulations of his exile.
Mr. Sharif was keen to underscore the colossal personal cost he had paid during his time away. He spoke of wounds that never heal, of losing his wife while in confinement, unable to bid her a final farewell, and of being unable to attend his mother’s funeral. “The two used to greet me at my doorstep whenever I returned home from abroad,” he reminisced, “I lost them to politics.”
He also recounted the arrest of his daughter, despite her lack of involvement in his political affairs. However, while his speech was laden with pathos, it seemed to lack the fiery rhetoric of his past. The Nawaz Sharif who had once passionately declared, “Vote ko izzat do” seemed to have evolved into a more subdued version.
Despite still asking, “mujhey kyun nikala?” (why was I ousted?), he did not appear eager to press the question. In fact, he consciously avoided delving into the transgressions of the judiciary and the military in the political realm, offering only indirect allusions to the need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
It was evident that Mr. Sharif was seeking a narrative reset. His speech was steeped in nostalgia for the year 2017, touching on topics such as the development of motorways, the rupee-dollar exchange rate, the cost of basic necessities like bread, petrol, and electricity, as well as the pressing issues of poverty and unemployment. However, amidst this reminiscence, there seemed to be no acknowledgment of the policies from his own tenure that have contributed to Pakistan’s current challenges. Instead, he appeared intent on promoting populist dreams.
Perhaps we should grant him some leeway, considering that this was his first speech upon returning. More speeches and policy discussions are likely to follow. However, if the PML-N’s economic policy remains anchored in the past, as it appeared from his speech, Mr. Sharif may face significant challenges in fulfilling his promises.
Leaving these policy concerns aside, it was heartening to witness Mr. Sharif back in the political arena. The hope now is that he seeks a fair and open contest, rather than a return to power through any unconventional means.