LAHORE   -   True to his word that he would return to the country after his medical treatment, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif finally arrived in Lahore early Sunday morning, putting an end to all rumours about his homecoming.

Despite the odd timings of his arrival (4:49 am), a good number of party workers reached Lahore Airport to welcome their leader. They showered rose petals on him and chanted slogans as he came out of the airport. He was driven to his Model Town residence in the form of a rally.

Senior party members including PML-N Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal, Amir Muqam, Pervez Malik and Azma Zahid Bokhari were among the prominent leaders who received the party president at the airport. A strong contingent of police guarded the airport and the adjoining roads in anticipation of any law and order situation.

The PML-N president is scheduled to preside over a meeting of party’s parliamentary party on Monday (today) in Islamabad to devise strategy for the upcoming budget session. Besides attending the budget session, Shehbaz is also scheduled to appear before an accountability court on June 11 (Tuesday). The accountability judge had expressed his displeasure over Shehbaz’s absence from the court during the last hearing. His counsel had, however, assured the court that he would appear on the next hearing.

Earlier, before boarding the plane at Heathrow Airport, Shehbaz said he was medically fit as all of his tests were clear. Talking to reporters, he said the joint opposition would devise future strategy after consultations.

It may be recalled here that Shehbaz had left for London on April 10 initially for a period of two weeks, but returned after two months giving rise to speculations that he might not return at all. Following Shehbaz’s departure for London two months back, PTI’s spokespersons had claimed that Shehbaz would not return as he was trying to find an escape from the court cases pending against him. They had also spread rumours that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was also planning to leave the country under the garb of treatment abroad.

It was in this background that despite the party announcement about the date of his return last week, government’s spokespersons were not sure he would come back. Federal Minister Sheikh Rashid said the other day he still had doubts about Shehbaz’s return.

It was during his stay at London that Shehbaz resigned as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and also announced restructuring in party’s hierarchy, placing his son Hamza and niece Maryam in the long list of party’s vice-presidents. Both got these offices for the first time though they have been in politics since long. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was also elevated to a senior most position in the party after the president. Ahsan Iqbal was made party’s general secretary while former law minister Rana Sanaullah was nominated as party’s Punjab president, a position previously held by Shehbaz.

Commenting on new nominations in the PML-N, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan had then stated that if Shehbaz Sharif was set to return, he would not have appointed people outside the family on important positions. “As the Sharifs keep important party offices with them and now if they have started taking people from outside the family, it is a strong indication they are heading towards a deal,” she had predicted at the time.

The PML-N president’s return comes ahead of an eventful week which is going to witness the upcoming federal budget, hearing of important cases against him and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari; and the Supreme Judicial Council’s proceedings against Justice Qazi Faiz Isa. A multi-party conference is also expected to take place after announcement of the federal budget.

Meanwhile, Shehbaz’s return incited a war of words between government’s spokespersons and those of the PML-N.

PML-N Spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said it was now time for PM Imran Khan to get worried as the latitude he enjoyed in Shehbaz’s absence had come to an end.

“The fear of Shehbaz’s return has made the PM hide in the mountains, while his spokespersons have also gone silent,” she said, adding now the prime minister will have to answer to the Opposition leader for his “inefficiency and incapability”. She also castigated PTI spokespersons for their false claims that Shehbaz would not return.

“If they have any shame, they all should resign,” she said.

Also, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said Shehbaz Sharif had returned after two months despite assurance to the court he will be back in two weeks. “He converted two weeks relief [given by the court] into two months of holidays,” she mocked, adding Shehbaz had been spotted swiftly walking in London streets indicating thereby that he had no serious health issues.

In her tweets, Firdous hoped the opposition leader would appear before the court regularly to face the cases against him.

Also, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid predicted that Shehbaz was most likely to go back to London after the budget session. He downplayed Shehbaz’s homecoming, saying it was not of any [political] significance. “He was here just to put a show for the media.” Rashid also claimed that Shehbaz would not be arrested during his brief stay in Pakistan.

Special Assistant to the PM Naeemul Haq took to twitter and urged the Opposition leader to abandon the politics of disruption and encourage healthy debate during the budget session.

“I hope that a month in London’s cafes and walks in Hyde Park and shopping in Harrods would have freshened Shehbaz’s mind. “Let’s abandon the politics of disruption and encourage healthy debate,” he remarked.

Punjab Chief Minister’s spokesperson Shahbaz Gill said PML-N workers gathered at the airport to receive Shehbaz as if their leader had returned after clinching World Cup or an Olympics trophy.

In a statement, he said those who ruled this country like emperors failed to build a hospital where they could get treatment of their choice. In a sarcastic tone, Gill said PTI government will build quality hospitals in the country so that these politicians could get treatment here.

He also accused Shehbaz of doing politics in London in the name of treatment. “It would have been great, had he brought back his son, son-in-law and Ishaq Dar with him.”