TORONTO: In a surprise move that proved many political pundits wrong, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to come back to the country to face the cases against him and his family in the accountability courts. Sharif had left Pakistan after he was deposed and disqualified by the Supreme Court over several corruption cases. He was in London to look after his wife who is recuperating from cancer surgeries.

Sharif’s decision, not only proved his political opponents and detractors wrong, is being seen as bold, daring step. However, it is also being seen as the success of intermediaries’ efforts who were on the job ever since Sharif left the seat. Sharif’s younger brother and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was the principal interlocutor who was said to be negotiating with army on behalf of the family seeking reprieve in the corruption cases against the Sharif family. Also there is talk of phone calls from Washington but this of course can not be verified.

The whole episode carries the feeling of déjà vu. In 2007, then US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her deputy at the State Department John Negroponte negotiated and oversaw the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was in exile escaping the same accountability courts. After several meetings with then military dictator General Musharraf, a deal was struck, paving way for Benazir’s return and quashing of all corruption cases against her husband and herself. The deal also included clauses on Benazir’s safety and security while in Pakistan. The idea was to bring the popular power and military power together to overturn the state of Afghan war.

Then the world saw that soon after Bhutto landed in Karachi to a resounding welcome, her reception party was struck by two bombs one of them was hidden under a police van. Bhutto escaped narrowly while 166 of her party crowd were dead. Bhutto returned to Dubai to mull the next move and fell into the trap again. Her bid to return as prime minister and her joining force with Musharraf was being seen as threat to interests of those who supported Taliban and was being perceived as potential game changer of the ground situation of Afghan war. As Bhutto returned again to take part in election campaign, she was not lucky this time.

Though Sharif is not Bhutto and even if he gets away with the corruption cases there is hardly any chance that Army would let him come back to lead his party in election campaign and let him become prime minister for fourth time. And if Sharif has decided to go through all this to make way for her daughter and a rising PML-N star, it’s a long shot and so far it’s clear that GHQ doesn’t want anyone from Sharif family to run for prime minister’s office.

Pakistani establishment at the moment has divergent views on the Sharifs, it seems. There are people inside who encourage Shahbaz Sharif’s efforts and nurture a soft spot for the Sharifs while there are many many people who oppose them and tie it as usual with national interest and national security. They see Nawaz as pro-India and pro-US, ‘crimes’ no civilian politician has gotten away with.

True, Sharif might have solid guarantees before he embarked but very few believe that General Musharraf was involved in Bhutto’s murder. The signs were that he kept his side of the bargain but there were people and circumstances beyond even his control.