CTV : Exiled former Pakistani PM Sharif to return

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Exiled former Pakistani PM Sharif to return

CTV.ca News Staff | November 24, 2007

Another major figure in Pakistan politics is planning to return from exile as the country reels from major suicide bombing attacks.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is to arrive in the eastern city of Lahore on Sunday.

Sharif has been living in exile in Saudi Arabia since shortly after his ouster from power in 1999.

Sadique al-Farooq, a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, said Sharif is unlikely to stage a mass rally like opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, another former prime minister.

As Bhutto's caravan slowly made its way through the streets of Karachi on Oct. 18, a massive blast killed more than 140 of her supporters.

Al-Farooq said he still expected thousands to come out and greet the opponent of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew Sharif.

After doing so, Musharraf gave Sharif two choices: Accept 10 years in exile or life in prison on charges that included hijacking and terrorism.

The hijacking charge stemmed from Sharif's attempt to turn back an airliner bringing back Musharraf from a trip abroad.

Musharraf used the cockpit radio to contact his commanders, who staged a coup. When the plane landed, Sharif was under arrest and Musharraf was Pakistan's new leader.

Sharif had tried to return in September, but Musharraf had him sent back to Saudi Arabia.

However, there are reports the Saudis are pressuring Musharraf to accept Sharif back to Pakistan.

The bombings

The early-morning attacks on Saturday targeted Pakistan's security establishment. A car loaded with explosives rammed a bus containing members of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's spy agency. Minutes later, a bomber attacked an army checkpoint.

Two senior intelligence officials told The Associated Press that at least 35 died in the bus attack.

An army statement would only confirm 15 deaths, plus the suicide bomber. The second attack left two security personnel seriously wounded and the bomber dead, it said.

"We suspect that pro-Taliban militants who are fighting security forces in our tribal areas are behind this attack," one of the intelligence officials said.

Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3 in part because of militant activity, but opponents have said he's focused more on squelching his secular opponents like lawyers, politicians and the media.

With files from The Associated Press