Nawaz Sharif
This handout picture taken and released on October 21, 2023, by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) party shows Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (C) signing a legal document after his arrival at the Islamabad airport. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan's three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived home on Saturday from four years of self-imposed exile in London to kick-start his party's campaign for an election early next year, targeting former premier Imran Khan as the biggest rival.

The 73-year-old veteran politician will lead a rally in his eastern hometown of Lahore after his chartered plane arrived in Islamabad with more than 150 people from his party and media organisations, the party and sources said.

After a brief stay in the Islamabad airport lounge to sign and file appeals against the convictions he was in jail for before he left the country, Sharif is to fly to Lahore.

"The process to sign and verify legal documents have been completed," close aide Ishaq Dar posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Rallies from various regions of the country were pouring into Lahore ahead of his arrival, a party spokesperson said. Heavy police contingents were deployed to guard the rally's venue, said police officer Ali Nasir Rizvi.

Sharif had not set foot in Pakistan since leaving for London in 2019 to receive medical treatment while serving a 14-year prison sentence for corruption. His convictions remain in force, but a court on Thursday barred authorities from arresting him until Tuesday, when he is to appear in court.

While he cannot run for or hold public office because of his convictions, his legal team says he plans to appeal and his party says he aims to become prime minister for a fourth time.