Monday, September 10, 2007

Sharif Gets Off Easy

It could have been worse.

He could have been Aquino-ed.

Nawaz Sharif's attempt to return to his homeland to overthrow President Pervez Musharraf ended in ignominy this morning, when the former Pakistan Prime Minister was arrested, bundled onto a plane and deported to Saudi Arabia.

After seven years in exile and weeks of anticipation of his return, Mr Sharif spent just four hours on his native soil.

On arrival at Islamabad aboard a Pakistan International Airlines flight from London, he was surrounded by black-uniformed commandos then shifted to the airport’s VIP lounge, where a senior investigator from Pakistan's anti-corruption body served an arrest warrant.

The investigator, Azhar Mahmoud Qazi, said that Mr Sharif was being held on money-laundering and corruption charges stemming from a sugar mill business several years ago. He is accused of laundering 1.2 billion rupees (£9.8 million).

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the president of Pakistan’s ruling party, said that Mr Sharif had been given a choice this morning of going into exile again or being arrested. He said that Mr Sharif had chosen detention – but it emerged soon after that he was being deported anyway.

As his followers in Pakistan clashed with police, who had set up roadblocks to prevent crowds from reaching the capital to acclaim him, Mr Sharif was quickly spirited to another plane and flown out of the country towards the Red Sea port of Jeddah, a close aide to General Musharraf confirmed.

He had intended to spend the afternoon travelling in a grand motorcade to his home and political base in Lahore, about 290 km (180 miles) to the south of Islamabad, to kick-start his campaign against General Musharraf.

Mr Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who stayed behind in London, said that their political party would challenge the deportation through the courts. ...

This morning's deportation appears to sideline General Musharraf's most powerful political enemy. It is likely however to deepen the President's growing unpopularity, and to reinforce public perceptions that he is an authoritarian ruler, ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections.


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