ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif should honor an agreement to stay in exile for 10 years and should not return on Monday, a Saudi official said on Saturday, citing concern about Pakistani stability.
Sharif, the prime minister whom army chief and president Pervez Musharraf ousted in 1999 and sent into exile the following year, is due to return home from London on Monday. He has vowed to launch a campaign to end Musharraf’s rule.
Asked for a reaction to the Saudi call, Sharif’s spokesman Nadir Chaudhri told Reuters in London: “We are returning under a Supreme Court verdict which clearly stipulates that Mr Sharif has the right to return to Pakistan and his return should not be hindered in any manner.”
“We are going under that ruling.”
The return of Sharif is a serious challenge for Musharraf, who has lost much public support since trying to dismiss the country’s top judge in March.
The government has been trying to block Sharif’s return, at least until after Musharraf tries to secure another term in a presidential election by the national and provincial assemblies some time between September 15 and October 15.
Adding to the political tension has been a string of militant attacks in recent weeks. A car bomb in the northwestern city of Peshawar wounded 18 people on Saturday.
Musharraf sent Sharif to Saudi Arabia in 2000 as part of what the government says was an agreement that Sharif would stay in exile for 10 years. In return, he avoided a life sentence on hijacking and corruption charges.
But the Supreme Court last month said Sharif had an “inalienable right” to return. Sharif later said he made no exile deal with the government and he is determined to return on Monday, along with his politician brother, Shahbaz.
Pakistan says the Saudi Arabian royal family and assassinated Lebanese leader Rafik al-Hariri guaranteed the exile deal.
Saudi intelligence chief Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and al-Hariri’s son, Saad, met Musharraf for talks on Saturday.
“We are hoping, we are really hoping, sincerely hoping, His Excellency Nawaz Sharif honors this agreement,” Muqrin later told reporters.
Muqrin said he hoped everyone would put Pakistan’s national interest and security before personal interest. He said Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “helped the Sharif family to get out of imprisonment” with the agreement.
The king “hopes for the sake of the national interest of Pakistan that all parties concerned with the agreement will honor and adhere to the terms,” Muqrin said.
Asked about the Supreme Court ruling that Sharif had the right to come home, Muqrin said: “Which comes first, the agreement or the Supreme Court? We respect fully the Supreme Court and law of every land but you still have an agreement.”
Saad al-Hariri has met Sharif in Britain but Sharif rejected any suggestion he postpone his return, a Pakistani official said.
The government has not said what it will do if and when Sharif and his brother land in Islamabad.
They could be arrested — both Sharif brothers face various charges — or they could be put on an aircraft back out of the country, as Shahbaz was when he tried to come home in 2004.
Muqrin said Saudi Arabia would welcome Sharif if Musharraf deported him: “Saudi Arabia is for all our brothers and sisters all over the Muslim world.”
A court on Friday ordered the arrest of Shahbaz on charges linked to the extra-judicial killing of five militants in 1998 when he was chief minister of Punjab province.
Sharif faces graft charges.
Authorities have rounded up hundreds of Sharif supporters in his powerbase in Punjab in recent days.