Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan from his self-imposed exile. Sharif’s homecoming after four years spent in London ignites political turmoil in the country as the general elections are around the corner.

The 72-year-old three-time former Prime Minister had previously been imprisoned on corruption charges but was released on health grounds in November 2019. His return is intriguing given his history of conflicts with Pakistan’s powerful military, who had once ousted him in a coup.

Sharif’s arrival is seen as a sign that the military may now be willing to welcome back the leader they had previously opposed. It may even pave the way for his return to the highest office.

Nawaz Sharif’s rival, Imran Khan, replaced him as Prime Minister in 2018. Khan is currently behind bars following a falling out with the military.

Sharif is expected to arrive in Islamabad from Dubai on Saturday before heading to Lahore for a public rally. There are pending court cases against him, but he is not at immediate risk of arrest as he has secured bail until a hearing next week. Sharif has a history of returning from exile, with his last major return in 2007 when he and Benazir Bhutto made an agreement with the military to participate in elections.

In 2007, all major opposition parties were united in their objectives, ultimately leading to the victory of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto in those elections. She was assassinated just weeks before the electoral triumph. The opposition in Pakistan is more fragmented today.

Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has confirmed him as their prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming elections, which have been delayed to 2024. However, he faces several challenges. One significant challenge is addressing Pakistan’s struggling economy, which is attributed to his party.

Concerns have also been raised about the fairness of the elections, especially due to the incarceration of his main opponent, Imran Khan.

A significant factor to consider in this dynamic political landscape is the military’s influence on Pakistan’s governance. While in exile, Sharif has been outspoken at times against the armed forces, alleging that former military officials played a role in political instability. He has also accused the country’s judges of collusion in what he called bogus cases, leading to a weakened democracy that prevented any of Pakistan’s prime ministers from completing their constitutional terms in office.