Nawaz Sharif lands in Pakistan, but deported

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested and thrown out of the country hours after returning home from exile on Monday morning.

Forcibly flown to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Sharif, who heads Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) arrived here in the morning and was immediately arrested. He was offered some food and then airlifted to Chaklala Air Base from where he was flown to Saudi Arabia in a special plane. Mr Sharif has been in exile for 7 years and recently decided to make a comeback in Pakistani politics - an activity he allegedly promised to give up for 10 years in the year 2000. Mr Sharif said he only pledged to stay away from Pakistan for 5 years and not 10 years.

Mr Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the then Army Chief (now President) General Pervez Musharraf on October 12, 1999 and sent into exile after being sentenced to life in prison on hijacking a plane and corruption charges.

The Saudi royal family stood guarantor to the agreement that allowed Mr Sharif to leave Pakistan in the year 2000 with his entire family to live in exile in Jeddah on the basis of a firm commitment that he stayed away from Pakistan politics for 10 years. There are still three years to run of that agreement and Mr Sharif also certainly did not stay away from politics. Neither did he stay in Saudi Arabia. And by all accounts, the Saudis, who have long exerted pivotal influence in Pakistani affairs, are furious.

Pakistan's Supreme Court in a ruling last month said that Nawaz Sharif's had an "inalienable right" to return home.

On the eve of Mr Sharif's return, Saudi Arabia on Saturday said that Nawaz Sharif was bound under a "written and signed deal" not to return to Pakistan before completion of a 10year exile period.

The moment the plane carrying Mr Sharif's landed from London at the Islamabad airport, the police detained him on corruption charges following a tense standoff involving his passport.

Mr Sharif had pledged his return would provide "a final push to the crumbling dictatorship" of President Musharraf.

Analysts said the return of a man whom President Musharraf drove from power in a 1999 coup is the biggest challenge yet for President Musharraf, fighting to cling to power in a nation awash in political tur moil. Mr Sharif shook people's hands after the plane touched down and his supporters on board chanted "Go, Musharraf! Go!" and "Long live Nawaz Sharif".

He quickly displayed his defiance by refusing to hand over his passport to officials for nearly two hours, prompting policemen to board the plane until he finally came out. He was arrested in the VIP lounge soon afterwards.

A few hours later, the authorities transferred the former Premier by a helicopter to an unknown loca tion and then forced him to board a special plane heading for Saudi Arabia.

Baton-wielding police personnel clashed with several dozens of Mr Sharif's supporters and arrested key members of his party, while security forces threw up a five-km security cordon around Islamabad airport.

Over 4500 activists of Mr Sharif's PML(N) were arrested from around the country on Sunday night and early Monday morning to stop them from welcoming their leader. Those arrested also include former President Mohammed Rafiq Tarar who was elevated to the top slot by Mr Sharif and then removed by President General Pervez Musharraf after the 1999 military coup.

The police in Islamabad also arrested Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) leader Liaquat Baloch and PML(N) leaders Javed Hashmi and Raja Zafarul Haq on Sunday night.

People were not allowed anywhere near three or four km from Islamabad airport. Rallies were banned. The travellers with tickets had to get to the airport by a bus.

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